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.


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.


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?


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?


South Africa – Ready or Not?

May 1, 2010

Yesterday marked the six week mark before the start of the 19th world cup – the first world cup to be hosted in Africa.

Though FIFA, publicly, are showing 100% support for the tournament, one can’t help but wonder if, behind closed doors, they are regretting their decision to have South Africa host the cup. South Africa, you will recall in 2000, controversially lost the vote for the 2006 cup to Germany prompting Sepp Blatter to install a system of rotation amongst the confederations. Like so many Blatter initiatives this system was short lived and suited his personal agenda. With 2002 already scheduled for Asia and 2006 for Germany, Blatter decided 2010 would be Africa’s turn and South Africa outpolled Morocco for the honour.

But since being awarded the tournament there seems to have been nothing but problems for the host nation.

Like many hosts there was a necessity to upgrade some stadiums and build completely new others. And it is this rebuilding which has caused major head aches. Late last year there was a construction strike and it was made public that the majority of workers were on a monthly wage of just 2500 Rand. That’s about $NZ450…. Scandalous given the amount of money that the world cup is expected to generate. It seems that the stadiums are now complete, but in some cases there are severe problems with the playing surface, none more so than at Nelspruit, the venue of New Zealands match with the current world champions Italy.  The pitch in Nelspruit was re-laid again in Mid March, less than three months before the start of the tournament. It continues to be a problem. Fortunately the All Whites match is the second of just four scheduled for Nelspruit and hopefully won’t be too damaged before we play.

Further negative publicity arose surrounding the eviction of many homeless from the cities and into specially built shanty towns. The most infamous of these is in Blikkiesdorp, Cape Town, where it is rumoured that as many as 15,000 are living in an area designed for 1,500 families. The “accommodation” is little more than corrugated iron huts, which residents say are worse than townships created by the white government during apartheids reign. Similarly, in Pretoria – the administrative capital – thousands are living in squalor whilst the government builds new stadiums. In the suburb of Mamelodi East as many as 6,000 live in shacks without electricity or running water. No prizes for guessing which race these South Africans are…… There have been threats that there will be heavy protests and chaos during the world cup, to highlight to the world the problems of South Africa today.

 

Unlike previous world cup hosts, South Africa doesn’t have the transport infrastructure to cope with an influx of tourists. The main centre for the cup is Johannesburg which hosts 15 matches whilst 12 further matches are being played in nearby Pretoria & Rustenburg.  Yet travel between the three cities is very difficult. Pretoria is just 40 minutes away but according to many tourist websites travellers are advised not to use local trains and taxis are often unroadworthy and dangerous. To this end the City of Johannesburg promised a new train system linking the two cities – the Gautrain. Typically, whilst this seems a great idea, it won’t be complete until 2011. Parts of it are complete but not the most important parts…those which can transport fans to matches. The only way to be sure of getting from one city to another is to hire a car.

And of course South Africa is famous for its level of crime….levels which it seems have had an impact on the volume of tourists making their way to the country for the tournament. Despite FIFA adding a further sales phase and reducing ticket prices for locals, as many as 27 of the 64 matches still have tickets available for sale, some embarrassingly so. If you are still considering attending New Zealands second world cup, you won’t have a problem getting tickets to our matches I can assure you!

At the end of the day though we are sure to witness a great tournament. It promises to be the most open world cup in many years, and there’s nothing quite like coffee & toast at 4 in the morning watching a quality game of football, is there? We may witness a great football tournament but the chances are that it won’t be running too smoothly outside the stadiums


Video technology

March 20, 2010

In a year when football in New Zealand seems to be progressing in leaps and bounds and going from strength to strength, how disappointing it is that at the top of the football tree, FIFA have once again stuck their heads in the sand and refused to budge on an issue which would take the game forward.

I refer of course to the decision last week of the IFAB to reject completely the use of goal line technology – or any technology in fact.

It’s an issue that the vast majority of football fans around the globe are in favour of, its an issue that the lesser sports have embraced with no harmful effects to their games and its an issue that won’t go away.

On the very day that IFAB rejected the issue, Birmingham City were knocked out of the FA cup having scored a “goal” which was not awarded. It was as if the gods were having a wee joke at FIFA’s expense.

There seems to be no clear reason for FIFA’s decision. In fact as each month goes by there seem to be more and more reasons why we should use some form of video technology. We already have a fourth official at most top league matches around the world. What do they actually do apart from hold a board up for time added on or for substitutions? Can they not monitor the game from a television? If the technology is there, why can’t it be used?

Common consensus is that FIFA think that the resulting stoppages in play will “disrupt the flow of the game”. How absurd is that really? We’d rather have injustice than a stop in play?!

Around the world we watched in horror as Thierry Henry cheated France to the world cup finals. Within seconds we all knew he had handled that ball, not once, but twice. It was blatant and it was deliberate. It seems that only the three blind mice officiating inside the stadium didn’t see it. Because it was a goal, play had stopped! Long before the ball was returned to the centre circle we knew that it should have been a free kick. The fourth official using a tv could have radioed the referee and said “it was a clear hand ball, award a free kick to Ireland.” So to use video technology here, wouldn’t have disrupted the flow of the game.

And of course, if we used the video to award any of the litany of goals not given in recent seasons then yes the flow of the game may well have been disrupted…but then play usually does stop when a goal is scored!

Football has changed immeasurably in this generation. More games are televised from more leagues to more homes. We have the benefit of a number of camera angles which in an instant tell us whether a refereeing decision is right or wrong. Why are FIFA happy to allow their referees to be criticised so regularly when the technology exists to assist them in avoiding that criticism?

We’ve already had one world cup decided by human error in allowing a goal that never went in. Lets hope that FIFA’s obstinacy doesn’t result in a similar situation this year.