Oceania – FIFA’s great unwanted

March 30, 2011

So once again those corrupt FIFA delegates have failed Oceania.

At their latest champagne and caviar jaunt a month ago, they set about allocating the world cup spots for 2014. Predictably the assigned the same spots as they had for 2010 with the sole exception being the transfer of the host spot from Africa to South America.  Europe have 13 places, Africa have 5, Sth America 5½, Asia 4½, Nth & Central America 3½ and Oceania just ½ a spot. FIFA’s allocation of places seems to be completely random. It is not based on population. It is not based on past success. It is not based on present success…its a complete farce.

Frankly it is a disgrace and defies natural justice in so many different ways.

As a confederation with full status and rights, OFC should have at least one direct spot. The best team in every other confederation qualifies automatically so why not OFC? FIFA is being inconsistent. After all, OFC receives direct spots in ALL other FIFA Tournaments, so why not the main one? That old familiar line is trotted out….Oceania is by far the weakest confederation and doesn’t deserve a spot. So we are weaker at senior level than we are at junior or women’s levels?? I don’t think so. Oh but a direct place for Oceania effectively means a direct place for New Zealand. Funny that – that’s what they said about Australia and whilst it might well be true for now, it might not be that way for long. It used to be that a direct spot for Concacaf was a direct spot for Mexico….

So how do you deserve a spot, exactly? Success? Size? Competitiveness? History? And is Oceania really the weakest by far? Since Espana 82 the OFC winner has been given a ludicrous qualifying path playing off against top teams from Europe and Sth America. Finally in 2006 Australia made it after a play off against Uruguay. The reality is that many top European nations would find it tough playing Uruguay home and away to qualify, and whilst we would still expect the top half dozen UEFA teams to make it, they wouldn’t relish the task.  Australia went on to qualify for the last 16 – not bad for a team from such a weak confederation. In 2010, as we will all recall, New Zealand also made it and came home unbeaten – and only a hairs breadth away from a place in the last 16. We were given an astonishingly bad deal from referees – we conceded two goals and both should have been ruled out…we were denied blatant penalties and still we were unbeaten. Is there no reward for successive good performances from OFC countries?

And how does Oceania compare to the other confederations?

In 2010 only 1 out of 6 African nations made the second round in their HOME continent yet they retain 5 direct spots????Only 6 European nations out of 13 – less than half! –  made the second round yet they retain 13 spots???? All 5 South American countries made the 2nd round and 4 of those made the quarters yet the only additional place they get is the hosts?? It would seem then that there is no correlation between success or ability and direct qualifying spots.

It is a joke.

Would the world cup as a spectacle be any the less because Oceania had 1 direct qualifier and Europe 12 ½? No it would not.

Does the 4th qualifier from Asia really justify a spot more than the winner of Oceania? Compare North Korea v New Zealand in 2010. 7-0 they lost…to Portugal, compare Saudi Arabia in 2002…8-0 they lost to Germany. New Zealand didn’t lose a match.

Does the 3rd team from Concacaf justify a spot more than the winner of Oceania? Honduras….who did okay….. but would it make a difference  really if it was Oceania that was given the direct place?

The world cup is not for the BEST 32 teams in the world. (Perhaps it should be!) The world cup is for the best teams from around the world……everywhere that is except Oceania.

And there was another sting in the tail too…..not only does Oceania only get half a spot, but the winner will go into a draw to determine which other confederation they play against….so there’s a 33% chance that we will play a South American team… Oh well…at least it won’t be Brazil.

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FIFA Selecting Hosts

August 26, 2010

Its only seven weeks since Spain won the 2010 World Cup but soon the spotlight will fall on the 2018 & 2022 tournaments. In a little over three months, the FIFA Executive Committee will announce who the successful bidders will be for both those tournaments, thus ending a bidding process which had its first deadline way back in February 2009.

As usual where FIFA, and in particular Sepp Blatter, are concerned there is an illogical process involved – in this case, why the decisions are being made at this time. The 2018 world cup will be held about seven and a half years after the announcement of the host. This is consistent with previous announcements – Brazil were announced as 2014 hosts in October 2007 and South Africa were confirmed as 2010 hosts in May 2004 – but the 2022 world cup will be held almost twelve years after the winning bid is selected!! 

Quite why FIFA need twelve years for 2022 isn’t clear. In fact, as the first deadline was in 2009 it is actually a 13 year advance notice – almost twice as long as normal and almost twice as long as is generally required elsewhere. Twelve years is a very long time in the life of any country. Governments change, economies rise & fall, even the heads of the local FA’s will have changed a couple of times in that period. Technology will progress in areas we haven’t even thought of yet.

Clearly in order to adequately prepare the country, to improve and/or build the required stadia and build or create the necessary infrastructure to cope with the expected volume of supporters, any host needs a reasonable preparation time. Seven years it seems would be about the norm, and the IOC have a similar time span for the Olympic Games. Even the IRB announced the 2011 RWC hosts in 2005, six years ahead of the event.

The decision to announce hosts for both tournaments was taken at the FIFA Congress in Sydney in 2008. When asked to justify the decision, Blatters reply was “If we can offer two competitions for eight years to our partners and broadcasters and give extra time for planning, the economic result for FIFA will be better.”  So its not about preparation, its about money? Are the financial rewards not lucrative enough for FIFA – and the host nation – with seven years notice? Admittedly, having been in South Africa for this years cup, an extra couple of years to get the infrastructure right would have been advantageous! The Gautrain, for example, linking Pretoria with Johannesburg was originally supposed to be ready for the World Cup but now won’t be completed fully until 2012!!! Similarly the rail line into Soccer City was one single track – hardly enough to move in excess of 80 000 fans.

Back in 2009 there were 11 hosting bids registered with FIFA but since then two have been withdrawn. A UEFA member is favourite to host 2018, as by then it will be 12 years since a world cup was held on the continent. The three favourites for that event are England, Russia and the joint Iberian bid from Spain & Portugal.  Given that after 2002 Blatter made public his desire not to have any more “jointly hosted” cups it would seem to come down to England or Russia. 2022 is not so clear cut. If we exclude the UEFA countries, we are left with Australia, Japan, United States & Qatar. Its unlikely that Japan will win the rights, as they were hosts back in 2002 so that narrows the field to just three.

           

Though Australia are telling everyone how confident they are, the fact remains that the most successful world cup to date was held in the USA in 1994. Further, kick off times in the States are more conducive to the valuable European tv audience than kick off times would be in Australia. On the local front the signings of Beckham & Henry by MLS teams have raised the profile of the sport in that country and its hard to see FIFA missing the opportunity to really give the sport a major boost. Not to mention the extra finance of course…. Finance too will be Qatar’s major selling point but it would be a major surprise if a nation so small and with no world cup history were to win the bid. If a country of 50 million population cannot fill stadiums in 2010 then what chance has a country with less than two million? United States then will be the favourites.

Its highly unlikely that they will need twelve years to get ready.


Harry Redknapp

August 7, 2010

Harry Redknapp is rarely out of the news these days. 

The Spurs manager seems to be one of those characters that attract attention almost unwittingly. Surprisingly sacked by West Ham in 2001, after presiding over The Hammers second best ever premiership finish, Redknapp resurfaced at Portsmouth where he was manager for a little over three years before disagreements with owner Milan Mandaric led to his resignation. Redknapp then threw fuel into the fire by becoming manager of Pompey’s great rivals, Southampton. The move infuriated Pompey fans and Redknapps rather odd response was that he did not realise there was so much rivalry between the two South Coast clubs.

Barely a year later, in December 2005, Redknapp returned to Fratton Park for a successful spell which resulted in the clubs highest league finish since the 1950s and in 2008 they won the FA Cup for the first time since 1939. Even then Redknapp managed to turn success into the bizarre. Just 2 days before a ceremony awarding him the “Freedom of the City”, as a result of that cup win,  Redknapp left Portsmouth to manage Spurs and since then has been relatively successful, guiding the team to the Champions League for the first time since 1961.

Hanging over Redknapp’s – and Spurs’ – head this season though is his impending court trial for failure to declare income and pay tax. That incident is another carry over from his time at Fratton Park.

As if the court date wasn’t enough, in the last month ‘Arry has been in the news three times – its almost as if his lack of activity in the transfer market has prompted him to look for ways of keeping Spurs in the news. Firstly, he put himself forward as Great Britain Olympic coach for the 2012 games football tournament. It will be the first time Britain have had a team in the Olympics since 1960 and it’s been agreed that they are represented by a solely English team. That team is a compromise as the Scottish, Welsh & Northern Irish FA’s refused to endorse a combined team.  Then came the absurd….. Redknapp offered to find a home for the Russian donkey which was photographed parasailing. Spurs fans cringed at how their club was portrayed in the media and one can only guess what Roman Pavlyuchenko, Spurs disappointing Russian striker, thought. The headline writers had a field day.

This week though, Harry was spot on when he complained about the midweek international date just three days before the start of the premiership.

England are due to play Hungary in what can only be described as a complete waste of time. Englands last fixture was the shellacking at the hands of Germany on June 27. The team were in camp together from the end of the season until then and many have only just returned to their clubs after the shortest of close season breaks. Spurs have a large contingent of England players, some who went to the World Cup – Lennon, King, Dawson, Defoe & Crouch – and some who did not – Jenas, Huddlestone, Bentley and the perpetually injured Woodgate. How is Redknapp supposed to prepare his team for the opening day of the season when so many are away on international duty? Redknapp says he won’t get his players back until the Friday, having not had them at training for the whole week.  On Saturday, Spurs kick off the Premiership with the first match of the season at home to Manchester City. It’s a huge match in the context of the season as both clubs are viewed as serious contenders for the championship. How can Redknapp seriously prepare his players for such a match when most of them are elsewhere? Now its true that Manchester City also have quite a large contingent of international players, many of whom are likely to be involved in midweek, so perhaps it evens out. But at the end of the day its likely that we will see two underprepared teams come day one of the season. Given the importance of the match, that’s not something that fans will want to see.

According to the FA, the fault lies with FIFA who designated the day as an international date. With this the last opportunity to try new faces before the upcoming Euro qualifiers in September, England had little choice but to arrange a match.

Really? And what new faces is Capello going to try, that he didn’t take to South Africa? And on what basis is he going to select them? He hasn’t seen any of them play since May. If they weren’t good enough then…..

It’s an absurd date for an international and Redknapp is right to complain.

 


Diego Going Going Gone!!!

July 28, 2010

Diego Maradona’s reign as Argentina coach ended this week – the only surprise being that the Argentine FA actually had the strength not to renew his contract.

One can’t help but think that Maradona’s was a hasty appointment – one which smacked of desperation at a time when Argentina were struggling to qualify for the world cup.  Appointed in October 2008 after Argentina had won only one of their previous eight matches, Maradona was seen as some sort of saviour – the hope and expectation being that he could transmit his abilities as a player into the managerial field.

Despite the opinions we all may have on his lifestyle, his cheating, his drug taking, tax evasion etc, there has never been any doubt about the mans qualities as a player. In 1986 he single handedly won the world cup for Argentina, but perhaps his finest achievement was dragging the 1990 Argentina side all the way to the final. That was an Argentine side which lacked quality throughout and yet Maradona was great enough to inspire his team to victories over Brazil, Yugoslavia & Italy before succumbing to Germany in the final.

His previous managerial career consisted of two short and unsuccessful spells at club level in the mid 90s so it was a huge gamble for the AFA to appoint him when they did. It’s unthinkable that Argentina wouldn’t be at the world cup and yet it was certainly looking that way. Indeed he started off with 3 successive wins, but inspiration can only go so far before lack of ability is found out.  In his fourth match in charge, Argentina suffered a 6-1 loss to Bolivia, equalling their biggest ever loss, and at that point many questioned the wisdom of his appointment. Bolivia were to finish second bottom of the Conmebol (South American) qualification table a full thirteen points away from qualifying.  From then on Argentina performed as a mediocre mid-table team would do – winning some and losing some and they stumbled into the finals by winning their final two matches.

That last statement alone says much about Maradona’s ability as a coach. With the greatest player on the planet in his side and the talent of Tevez, Milito, Cambiasso, Zanetti & Riquelme available to back Messi up, Argentina should have been going to South Africa as Conmebol winners and expecting to win the cup, not as a mediocre also ran. Maradona though picked a squad that was never going to go far. No Cambiasso, no Zanetti, no Riquelme, 7 strikers – including, absurdly, Martin Palermo!!! – and, most importantly, no recognised ball winner. In the simple act of squad selection, Maradona did what managers throughout Europe had failed to do for the past five years – take Lionel Messi out of the game!

With no one to give him the ball, Messi was a mere passenger when it came to the business end of the cup. He shone against South Korea, in the group stages, creating all four goals and we saw glimpses elsewhere, but they were only glimpses – not the domination we see week in week out for Barcelona. In the second round match against Mexico, Argentina were struggling until that awful refereeing decision gave them the lead. That was followed up by a defensive error and Argentina were cruising.  Then came Germany……

Maradona is an inspirational figure for Argentinians everywhere. He is an entertainer, he is vibrant, he is an extrovert and he is a delight to watch. But as a manager he was found out as being tactically inept and being unable to understand that a team needs balance. It was also clear that he didn’t have the ability to recognise quality players.

The Argentine Football Association are to be commended for recognising that in order to be competitive in Brazil 2014, they must do so without their national hero.


The Man in the Middle!!!

July 17, 2010

17 July 2010

So another world cup has come and gone and with it the usual array of talking points, golden moments and controversy. Without doubt though, the over riding memory of the tournament – apart from the performances of the All Whites – is the substandard level of refereeing and the associated controversies.

Howard Webb’s appalling performance in the final summed up a litany of poor performances by fellow whistlers from around the globe. Webb seemed intent on ensuring that the game ended with eleven players on each side, however hard some players tried to be sent off. Hettinge became Webbs first red card of the tournament in the 109th minute, but by then the final had been ruined. Strange that prior to the final Webb went on record as saying he wanted the final to be remembered for the football not the officiating! The result of course was instead of the final being an exhibition of Spain’s quality possession football and Netherlands ability to counter attack swiftly, we were presented with a stop start game full of late tackles and blatant attempts to injure opponents. It appeared that Netherlands knew they were no match for the Spanish and decided to stop them winning by any means possible. How different it might have been, had Webb sent off Van Bommel early on or De Jong for that atrocious foul on Xavi Alonso. As the match wore on it appeared that Van Bommel had free reign to kick any Spaniard at will with no repercussion. His late challenge on Iniesta resulted in the normally placid Spaniard retaliating – fortunately Iniesta had the last laugh, scoring the goal that won the cup.

 

But Webb was not alone. Throughout the tournament there were many decisions which left fans and players speechless and materially affected the outcome of games. Where would New Zealand have finished had Robert Vittek’s goal been rightfully disallowed, or Daniele De Rossi’s dive been punished with a yellow card instead of a penalty? What would have happened in the second half in Bloemfontein had Frank Lampard’s goal been given? I had the good fortune to be at the wonderful Soccer City to watch the Mexicans taking on Argentina and find themselves go behind to a Carlos Tevez goal which was so startlingly obviously offside that we were shocked that it wasn’t disallowed.

Football everywhere is littered with close decisions, many which look surprisingly different when viewed on replay or from a different angle. The examples above though, need no replays. Each and every one of them was clear to the naked eye, yet was missed by the officials. In this column earlier this year I criticised FIFA for dismissing, without discussion, the argument for using video technology. If there is one good thing to come out of the world cup refereeing levels, it is that it appears that technology may well be back on the FIFA agenda. Following the England & Mexico incidents Sepp Blatter said “It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup it would be a nonsense not to re-open the file on goal-line technology” I’d suggest it was a nonsense to have closed it in the first place.

Sepp Blatter though continues to offend. He went on….“The only thing I can do is yesterday I have spoken to the two federations (England and Mexico) directly concerned by referees mistakes.”

I wonder if he apologised to NZ Football for the mistakes against New Zealand? Somehow I doubt it. There are rules for some and rules for others. The rules are different if you are a big nation with a strong standing in the sport, as opposed to a minnow from Oceania. Who cares if an Oceania nation is on the bad end of a shocking refereeing decision? Now a self proclaimed giant like England????  We can’t have that can we?


Same old Aussie…….

June 12, 2010

The recent “friendly” between the All Whites and Australia was an eye-opener for New Zealand and hopefully we will learn lessons from it for the future.

Matches between New Zealand and Australia are never friendly but its probably true to say that this one was more brutal than most.   Grella & Cahill should definitely have been sent off and Milligan too could have seen red for his disgraceful over the top tackle on Lochhead. Whilst Milligan was guilty of one bad challenge, Cahill & Grella seemed intent on injuring as many Kiwis as possible. Before his shocking challenge on Bertos, Cahill had already put his foot into Fallons back – a more than bookable offence which seems to been forgotten amidst the other challenges. Grella, of course, having attempted to cripple Bertos followed up by pulling Tim Brown down, a soft challenge, perhaps, but one which has left one of New Zealands most important players in serious doubt for our World Cup campaign.

 

But back to the Australians.

One has to question their motives in approaching the game the way they did. None of those challenges were rash, none of them accidental, each and every one of them a deliberate attempt to maim an opponent. Whilst its true that this game was worse than most, the Socceroos have never been backward in coming forward in the physical side of the game. The very fact that they started the game with Moore, Neill & Grella – three names that any fans around the world would tell you are aggressive  – implied that they weren’t taking the game lightly. Thinking back through their recent history and coming up with names such as Tiatto, Muscat & Vidmar, its obvious that what the Australians lack in ability, they are more than happy to make up in aggression.

So what can we learn?

Well one wonders what we were doing playing a local derby so close to such a major event. Who’s idea was that? Whilst we do crave playing Australia, and should match ourselves against them more often, it was pure folly to play them when we did. We just don’t have the strength in depth to risk losing key players to injury. What did we hope to gain from this game? More sensible to play the subsequent Slavic sides and Chile…sides that play similarly to the teams we will meet in South Africa… teams that have little to lose by losing to New Zealand. Local derbies anywhere in the world bring out aggression and desire….. whether it be Glasgow, North London, Milan or Rio, derbies are blood and thunder and controversy and especially passion come to the fore.  Australia in front of their home crowd – in the match billed as “The Socceroos Farewell Match” – were suddenly being made to look second rate. “Little New Zealand” took the game to them and were outplaying them all over the park. We were a goal up and had hit the post, whilst McDonald, Cahill & co were looking lost against our back three. The Australians were feeling their pride take a beating – they were being embarrassed. The only crowd you could hear was the White Noise contingent. Is it any wonder Australia reacted the way they did? The little brother was teaching the big brother a lesson….how would any big brother react?

In recent years with the Kingz, Knights & Phoenix playing in the Australian leagues, there’s been a tendency for some Kiwis to wish the Socceroos well in their world cup forays…in some kind of Anzac/Oceanic kindred spirit.

After that display at the MCG I for one will be thrilled if Australia lose all three world cup matches handsomely. And if Cahill & Grella are injured in the process…well that would be some justice.


Is Englands reign over?

May 22, 2010

This weekends UEFA Champions League final may herald a changing of the guard at the top of the European football table.  

Although no club has won the trophy twice in succession since the fabulous Milan side of the late eighties, the competition does have cycles where teams from one country dominate. Italian clubs, for example, dominated the tournament throughout the nineties until Spanish clubs, notably Valencia & Real Madrid, took over and they were then followed by English clubs. Liverpool’s thrilling, come from behind victory in 2005 started a run of five consecutive finals involving English clubs.  Although only two of those finals were won, the semi finals regularly involved two or more English clubs. This year though, not one English club made it even that far. Despite Italy’s dominance in the nineties, Internazionale  – one of the most well known clubs in the world – are appearing in their first final in 38 years, whilst Bayern Munich are the first German club to make the final since Bayer Leverkusen in 2002.

Its an interesting conundrum that at a time when the Premiership is becoming more competitive than ever, English clubs internationally are waning. After years of dominating the league, the “big four” have had their monopoly broken. Liverpool of course slipped down to seventh with Tottenham taking their coveted Champions League spot, edging out Manchester City in the penultimate game of the season. With the money that is available to them, we can expect City to improve on this seasons fifth position, next year, and that suggests that there is a good chance that another of the “big four” may follow Liverpool.

Ironic too, that with Fabio Capello at the helm, England consider next months world cup to be their best chance of winning the trophy in forty years, although they came moderately close in Italy in 1990.  Of course, football followers are used to England declaring that “this year is our year”.  Before this years failure in Europe – and yes I am aware of Fulhams great run, but who really takes the Europa League seriously?  – things did seem to be falling into place for England. Their club sides were dominating internationally and a sprinkling of excellent players such as Lampard, Rooney, Defoe and Gerrard seemed to be coming to their peaks at the right time whilst new blood in the form of Lennon & Walcott were thriving. 

With the world cup being played in winter, the Brazilians & Argentines who thrive in warmer summer temperatures no longer have that advantage. This must surely give the European nations a great opportunity to win the trophy outside their home continent for the first time. The draw has been kind for England too. Should they win their group they would meet Serbia or Ghana in the second round and then probably France or Nigeria in the quarterfinals. They could realistically expect to get to the last four without meeting a team ranked in the top 10!!

Is this seasons champions league failure a pointer towards failure for England? Time will tell, but it does seem that perhaps English club sides have passed their peak. Other outside influences are having a negative effect too. The John Terry/Wayne Bridge scandal resulted in the latter withdrawing from the squad and the former losing form to such a degree that his previously secure place is now doubtful. This week the FA have had to issue apologies to the Spanish and Russian FA’s following comments made by 2018 bid leader David Triesman, implying that those nations were conspiring to bribe referees….more negativity. Add into the mix doubts about the fitness of John Terry & Wayne Rooney and suddenly morale starts to drop even further.

Mind you, back in 2006 the Italian side played under the cloud of a bribery scandal and they didn’t do badly did they?