Europe’s minnows deserve fresh waters

by Alex Byers

Depleted England’s dismantling of Moldova on Friday once again threw in to question whether the participation of such minnows in qualification for major tournaments is beneficial to anyone.

Many will claim that it would be unfair to deprive such nations from the opportunity of qualifying for football’s major showcase and playing against the world’s best, but does the state of football in the likes of Moldova, Luxembourg, San Marino, Andorra and Lichtenstein benefit from matches in which a 5-5-0 formation is deployed in an attempt to avoid humiliating their country’s name?

Featuring in such unequal matches serves nothing to develop the standard of football in these countries and it is time for Europe’s smaller nations to be put into a preliminary qualification phase in order for them to advance tactically and technically.

A game between San Marino and Andorra in which both teams play 4-3-3 formations and attack one another surely provides more benefit to both teams than a damage limitation exercise against a embarrassingly superior side.

The Champions League has a system whereby a percentage of the teams progress through qualifying rounds in order to play the big boys in the group, so why should World Cup Qualification be any different?

Placing Europe’s smaller sides in there own qualification phase will produce competitive matches, allowing their coaches to set up in an attacking manner and develop their careers as tacticians by deploying new formations and styles.

It will also afford the opportunity to develop young players and create a winning culture that generates more national pride than a humbling defeat live on television. A young 18-year old Andorran striker will learn nothing about himself or football during a 90 minute chase of Gary Cahill’s heels interspersed with the taking of eight centre kicks.

A drubbing at home by England whilst playing with no strikers does nothing to help develop the Moldovan players, nothing to develop their coaches, nothing to instil any confidence within the team and gives the impression to young Moldovan’s that football is more about avoiding failure than taking risks to succeed.

A qualification preliminary would allow the nations to earn a trip to Wembley and they would arrive their with more self belief and pride, if you qualify from the preliminary you get a crack at the big time, if you don’t, you look to improve and come again next year, teams can’t improve if they are terrified of changing formation or personnel for fear of shaming their country of birth.

This isn’t football snobbery and I take into account the financial implications removing such fixtures would produce, yet FIFA and UEFA should prioritise football development and give Europe’s weaker football nations the chance to develop their game in a competitive environment by subsidising such nations financially for the benefit of developing the game.

Preliminaries take place in all of Europe’s other major domestic tournaments and the time has well and truly arrived to make the change in World Cup and European Championship qualification .

FIFA claim that they are all about promoting fair play, yet the only thing Moldova, Andorra and Liechenstein experienced on Friday night was an unfair disadvantage against a team who barely broke sweat in afflicting embarrassment.

Give a man one football lesson at Wembley and you make him semi-famous for a day, give a man eight competitive matches of international football and you improve his game.

Surely after over twenty years of one sided games between elite professional sides and part-time teams there should be a change.

FIFA pride themselves on fair play yet continue to put the tadpoles in with the sharks, it’s high time FIFA practised what they preached and took the small fish out of the big and terrifying pond by handing European minnows a fair opportunity to express themselves in fresh competitive waters.

2 Responses

  1. Giancarlo Marcelli says:

    I completely agree with your ideas on this topic. A more evenly matched competitive game, or 8, would be much more beneficial than getting drubbed, battered mentally, and embarrassed nationally. There’s not much else to point out regarding the positives to this situation, however, one may point out that it may be embarrassing that a nation have to qualify, but I think getting beaten 8-0 every qualifying campaign is indeed worse.

  2. John Clarke says:

    As an Irish based football fan I feel in this country we are uniquely placed to comment on this topic. In international football our national team would mostly likely avoid any pre-qualifying, however our club sides must scrap it out amongst the also ran minnows in European football.

    Over the years I have witnessed some trouncings of sides at Dalymount and the old Lansdowne Road by our International side, not too many at the new Lansdowne. Equally I have witnessed some fairly abject performances against so called lesser nations. I could never accept that Ireland should be automaticaly placed above the Andorras of this world purely on the basis of a ranking. I would contend that the seeding system in the drawing of the groups adequately ensures that “big”countries have the opportunity to progress. To deny countries the chance of a day in the sun against a Germany or Italy is one thing, but to deny these lesser nations the chance of an upset against an Austria, Ireland or Scotland is entirely another. Players progress by playing against players of a higher level, not by only playing against players of their own level. Not every international team is laden with stars of the EPL.

    In regard to club football, I am old enough to recall the glamour of AC Milan coming to St Mels Park in athlone in 1975, a tie the likes of which will never happen again due to draw restrictions. My local team in Ireland have regurally qualified for European football in recent years but the prospect of a glamour tie is virtually nil. To progress to such a tie they must win probably 3 rounds against opposition that get progressively better each round. This is an expensive and almost impossible task. A trip to some far flung Eastern European country is both expensive and energy sapping for players many of whom are part time. The big clubs in Europe have ued their financial clout to almost squeeze out the smaller clubs. This has happened with the introduction of multiple places in the Champions League to ensure the Man U’s, Inters etc will be in that competition every year. The introduction of the Europa League as a consolation prize for those who fail to make the group stages of the CL. Sooner or later this competition too will become an area closed to clubs like those of Ireland as the regular particpants will want to ring fence that too.

    If international football goes the way you propose it is likely that sooner or later World Cups and European Championships will be all but closed to smaller nations in the same way as the Champions League. Even as it is the places in the World Cup finals are weighted towards the more financially powerful federations. That is more than enough football must resist the pressure from financiers and media moguls to control waht is the peoples game.

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