“There’s less than a minute to go. Christian Mouritsen, the Faroes’ workhorse lone attacker – just one of many heroes tonight – brings the ball into the corner to eat up a few more precious seconds.
“He shields the ball from Philipp Lahm. Frustrated, the German captain kicks out at his opponent and the assistant flags for a free kick. Surely this will be the last kick of the game?
“IN FACT THEY WONT EVEN GET TIME TO TAKE IT!! THE FAROE ISLANDS ARE GOING TO EURO 2016 AT THE EXPENSE OF THREE TIME WORLD CHAMPIONS GERMANY!!”
In the category of ‘Sports Commentary We’re Most Likely To Hear in 2015’ the above would probably nestle somewhere alongside, “….8,9,10 and Mayweather is out for the count! And who would have thought it would be Octogenarian funnyman Ronnie Corbett who’d bring Floyd’s unbeaten run to an end?!”
So unlikely is either scenario that the average bookmaker would probably offer similar odds on both.
But leaving a discussion on the pugilistic merits of cardigan-wearing diminutive comedians to another day, let’s just deal with the first of the far-fetched hypothetical upsets.
It’s difficult to say which is more unlikely; a nation with the might of Germany (seeded first, of course) not emerging from a group of 6 where the top two automatically qualify and the third placed team go into a play-off, or whether it’s a pseudo-nation with a population less than half the size of Crawley ever coming within a country mile of bothering the business end of a major qualifying campaign, much less actually qualifying.
Yet despite either of these nigh-on impossibilities ever coming to pass, UEFA, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to rejig the format of the European Championships to ensure the likes of Germany vs the Faroes and the dozens of other similarly ‘matched’ fixtures will have even less riding on them from now on – something few of us ever thought possible.
There are so many reasons to despair of Michel Platini’s latest capricious wheeze, it’s difficult to know where to begin, but let’s start with the finals themselves. Having witnessed the likes of Ireland thrash about, helplessly out of their depth at the 16 team 2012 Euros, a stronger argument could surely be made for a reduction in the number of sides competing at the finals than can be made for an increase.
With barely 10 good sides in Europe the addition of a further eight teams (whom, logic dictates, won’t be any better than Ireland were in 2012) to this already bloated format can only detract from the quality, not add to it. No longer can the finals be referred to as the elite of the European game, but rather the elite plus some teams who haven’t a snow-flakes chance in hell of winning – or The Qualifiers as they were previously known.
And with the dilution of the finals it’s only natural that the qualifiers be diminished too, leaving them in a state of utter ridiculousness. In theory 54 nations will form nine groups and play 124 games (including play-offs) between them to determine 24 spots (well, 23 actually, as France go through as hosts.) Except that’s not really true, is it. In reality 54 nations will form 9 groups and play 124 games to determine no more than 10 to 12 places.
Eschewing the laughable adage of there being ‘no easy games in international football’, we can say with 100% confidence that the 13 nations who qualified for this summer’s World Cup will qualify for Euro 2016. It is inconceivable that any team that managed to qualify from groups where 1.5 teams go through would then fail a mere two years later to progress from a group where 2.5 nations progress, especially when all 13 sides will be either first or second seeds for Euro 2016. So from the original 54 nations we can already whittle it down to 41.
Next we can remove the nations whose odds of making it to the finals can be measured in the hundreds, if not thousands, to one. We can say with unequivocal certainty that the 12 nations who failed to register more than a solitary win during the recent World Cup qualifying campaign will not be travelling to France. And, although they’re something of an unknown quantity, one suspects Gilbraltar can safely be added to that list. So before a ball has even been kicked, from the original 54 we can say with near absolute certainty that 26 nations either definitely will or definitely wont qualify for the finals.
Which leaves us with a mere 28 teams whose faith, it could be argued, is undecided. 28 teams to battle it out for no more than 11 places, or, to put it another way, 124 games to eliminate at most 17 countries. In short, more than half of the 124 games we will have to endure over the next two years have been rendered completely and utterly pointless before qualifying has even begun. International football, one can’t help but feel, has finally eaten itself!
What should happen, of course, is for the ‘undecided’ 28 teams to battle it out amongst themselves, say in four groups of seven with the top two in each group plus the two best third placed teams qualifying. This would entail a mere 56 games but all of which would be of crucial importance and also contested by two relatively evenly matched sides.
As for the top 13 automatic qualifiers, they could use these international windows to play friendlies amongst themselves and nations from other continents. From a player and manager perspective far more would be learned from friendly games against Brazil or Germany than ‘competitive’ games against Andorra or Lichtenstein. As for whom the fans would prefer to see their team play? Some questions don’t need answering….
As for the bottom 13 or so, they should be cut adrift and play among themselves for the right to go into the qualifying proper for the next major championships. There is nothing these nations can learn about the game by getting spanked 6-0 every time they cross the white line. After all, how can you improve at football when you never have the ball? Some will argue these teams ‘deserve’ their glamorous day out at Wembley, Stade de France or Stadio Olympico, but that’s like saying Burton Albion deserve to play in the Premiership. They don’t. They’re not good enough. That’s why we have a tiered structure in club football – because certain teams aren’t good enough. A similar tiered structure is long overdue in the international game.
Of course none of these suggestions would ever pass muster with UEFA, being laced with logic as they are. Instead the powers that be will do the opposite and stage yet more of these non-event borefests as FIFA hand out more and more licences to whichever glorified fishing village, ski resort or rock that next has the cheek to call itself a nation (how long before the Vatican is awarded a FIFA licence?), thus condemning us to evermore cricket score football matches.
But whilst UEFA undoubtedly gains from these extra television revenues in the short-term, one has to wonder if they’re not scoring a massive own goal over the long-term. In an increasingly competitive sports tv market it’s not hard to envisage scores of weary football fans defecting to rival sports on international week. Sports where the word competitive still has some meaning. Sports such as boxing where even match-ups such as Mayweather v Corbett would probably still be more competitive than Germany vs the Faroes. It’d certainly be more entertaining.