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The issue of continental World Cup berths taking center stage again

May 14, 2013, 10:10 AM EDT

Joseph Sepp Blatter

Two things to know about Sepp Blatter’s recent advocacy for better continental balance among World Cup spots:

First, it’s about politics. (It is always, thought?)  Remember, Blatter recently said he would seek a fifth term as FIFA president, never mind those promises to step down in 2015.

Second, it’s a very bad idea. As I always say, never underestimate the power of a really bad idea – especially one that gets dragged into a political dogfight.

Speaking recently in Asia, Blatter lamented that Europe and South America would gobble up 19 of the 32 berths for World Cup 2014.

We have to get a better balance. You are a powerhouse. You must be aware that you are a powerhouse … If you have the same number of participants from all continents then there is a balance of strength and a balance of forces … There is no chance to kick them [Europeans or South Americans] out before one of them is in the semifinals.”

All you really need to know is that Asia’s voting could be critical to Blatter’s reach for an unprecedented and highly controversial fifth term in FIFA’s highest seat. So, of course he wants more spots for Asia! Just as he will bang the drum for greater CONCACAF participation when he shifts focus on that voting block. Same for Africa, surely, when he gets around to it.

The problem, of course, is that more Asian teams, more teams from the relatively tiny Oceania confederation and more teams from our own region serve only to water down the World Cup field.

It is always fair to debate the dispersal of those 32 World Cup berths. Should half the South American nations get in? Does CONCACAF deserve fewer spots? Does Africa, with 56 nations, deserve more?

But the discussion should be based on data and whatever competitive criteria we can reasonably develop (which is admittedly tricky, since there is but one intercontinental competition that matters, the World Cup itself).

In this piece, the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson looks at the current dispersal of berths and the history of success of the lesser confederations. It’s involved, but it’s a good read. Maybe someone can email it to Blatter.

  1. tylerbetts - May 14, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    From a fan’s point of view, I look at it this way:

    In the 2010 world cup, were there CONCACAF teams that I thought “wow, it’s a shame x, y, or z didn’t get in as that really dillutes the World Cup to not have them?” Nope. Not a won. Asian? Nope. Oceania? Nope. CONMEBOL? Not really – you could make an argument, but not really. Europe? Probably. Africa. Sure (Egypt stands out). But, at the end of the day, I didn’t think to myself “wow, there are some nations missing that really should be here”.

    With that in mind, I think we’re fine as it stands.

    However, if Sepp is really of the mind to include more teams from other continents, why not take a page out of the NCAA Tournament? Scrap the home-and-away aggregate series for intercontinental playoffs, and host them as part of the World Cup. Start the tournament a couple of days early and do a one game, winner-gets-in-the-group-stage, loser-has-only-that-game couple of games. It would probably make FIFA more money (More world Cup games to sell to TV partners, and I can’t imagine tv ratings are huge for those intercontinental playoff games as-is), and probably better for the Confederations (two more teams who have fans who get a World Cup experience, and who’s paying for the New Zealand-Honduras (or whoever it ends up being) flights for that playoff?).

    • wesbadia - May 14, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      Better yet, make an entire group phase of the tournament before the real group phase and include ALL the intercontinental playoff participants. Then take the top two. Could stretch that pre-WC stuff to another week or two. Plus give an additional one or two teams from UEFA, CONMEBOL, or CONCACAF an additional berth to even things up. I mean… if it’s just for the money.

  2. dfstell - May 14, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I guess the question is who loses those spots…’s going to come at the expense of teams from countries like Denmark or Chile. I know as a fan, I’d rather watch Denmark and Chile than Iran.

    But, I doubt it really is that dilutive. I mean, it isn’t like Iran will be the lucky team that gets into the WC and then wins it. In all likelihood, we’re arguing about teams that will all be knocked out in the group stages.

  3. wesbadia - May 14, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    The problem with changing the system is that most of the regions in question (Asia, Oceania, Africa) have teams that make it consistently (Japan, S Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Cameroon, Nigeria, etc) and then a lower tier that is a revolving door of teams. Name me four teams from those federations mentioned that haven’t made it to a WC in the last 30 years that have proven they’re consistently knocking on the door in the qualifiers. Maybe Egypt, but that’s even questionable. Most second-tier teams are consistent at one thing: being inconsistent. If they’re constantly at flux from one cycle to another, is there really any need to include them in a WC?

  4. geojock - May 14, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    This shouldnt be debate about who is better and how it needs to be more balanced. The debate should be about the corruption of Blatter and that he would mess with the allocation just for personal gain.

  5. bellerophon30 - May 14, 2013 at 5:04 PM

    The idea of Sepp Blatter getting another term as head of FIFA gives me the shakes, and what’s worse is that he’s going about getting it the smartest way. Not the right way, this is Sepp we’re talking about, but you can’t say that he’s not a smart guy.

    I think when an African or Asian team makes a WC Final, or in Africa’s case a semi-final, then we should talk about allocations. I get that the 32 best team will never get into the tournament, but right now you can makes a case that it’s the 26 best teams and 6 field fillers. That’s enough. Like it or not, European football drives the sport economically, they have the best teams.

    As for CONCACAF? I hold true to my pie in the sky dream of Mexico and US seceding from it and joining CONMEBOL. Works for the two of us, would be great for South America, as they would get more exposure on US and Mexican television. It makes so much sense that it’ll of course never happen.

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