Pity poor CBC Soccer Sports Reporter John Molinaro.You see, John (can I call you John?), as part of his grueling soccer reporting job that nobody else would ever want to do, was forced yesterday to watch Italy trounce the Faroe Islands 5-0 yesterday.That's the same Faroe Islands that were ripped apart by WC/EC winners France by a whopping total of one goal to nil a couple of years ago (a game which incidentally came close to ending 1-1 at the dying stages). John got a bit bored and started tweeting about the so-called "need" after decades of the status quo for lower and upper UEFA qualifying groups.
I've argued in the past that, when financially and geo-politically feasible, the onus on each FIFA federation should be to stage as inclusive an opening World Cup or regional championship qualification round as possible. It's the simple a priori principle of fair play. John's example of CAF's decision to feature a five team home and away preliminary round of the lowest FIFA ranked eligible nations (PDF) doesn't take into account that the CAF format comes down largely to issues of financial and infrastructural necessity. For example, CAF entrant Sao Tome hasn't even played a competitive football match since 2003. San Marino or Andorra are not even in the same ball-park as Djibouti or Central African Republic.
But what really galls is the presumption of fans of the larger nations to dictate to the so-called minnows what the terms of their competing in a UEFA competition should be simply because they regularly beat them. Fans of Italy, who usually expect their team to top their qualifying group, might be a bit bored watching the Azzuri play the Faroe Islands. But what of the mid-sized nations for whom every game is not a given, for whom qualification is not assured, for whom goal differentials count for everything? What of the small nations themselves, who play in front of their countrymen and women, no less proud of their efforts than fans of England and Italy (actually, probably more so)? No John, it wasn't a waste for any fan of the Faroe Islands when their team beat Austria 1-0 in 1990. It was one of the high points of their national team history.
Yesterday, Scotland waited until the 97th minute to beat lowly Liechtenstein. Andorra got a goal back against Ireland to make it 2-1 before Keane added a third. This is football. There are in-built competitive advantages for certain countries based on population, GDP, and footballing history. But a nation is a nation, regardless of size or footballing prowess. They deserve a fair shake against the best of the best teams in their federation, regardless of the likely but not absolutely guaranteed results. The boredom of fans of so-called big nations (you know, the ones that get booted out of the first WC round against Slovakia) shouldn't overrule the principle of fair play, even if Molinaro gets bored getting paid to watch games for the CBC once in awhile.