Concacaf and other World Cup Places
Result Just In: Old World 8, New World 0
After nearly three weeks of action, a pause for breath. We have seen 56 games over 19 days eliminate 24 of the sides who came to Germany full of hope that they would still be here. And it's time to return, conclusively, to a subject mentioned earlier on in the competition: Europe's continuing right to nearly half the places in the World Cup. Some major European names are out. Holland and Spain both gone in the last 16, the Czech Republic not even getting that far, undone by Ghana. But, none the less, the overwhelming message of this World Cup has been the strength of the game's traditional powerhouses. Of the teams who have been world champions, only Uruguay were missing from the original 32. And, with the defeat of Spain in Hanover on Tuesday night, the last of those sides made it through: Italy, (West) Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France are all in the last eight. The other two places have gone to European sides. Though perhaps the presence of Ukraine is a surprise, they had the good fortune to pass the Group H booby prize, a meeting with France, to the side that whacked them 4-0 in the tournament opener. This level of success for Portugal, semi-finalists and finalists in the past two European Championships, is overdue. All of which is bad news for the aspiring nations. The old world order in football remains the world order. Asia had a semi-finalist and a team in the last 16 in 2002. Now they have to rely on new friends Australia to claim anything from the knock-out stages. Last time, Mexico lost to the United States in the last 16. Now, their extra-time defeat to Argentina sees CONCACAF slip back badly, too, as the USA, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago were already out. Paraguay went out in the first round, Ecuador in the second: no South American team outside the big two has reached the last eight since Peru in 1978 (and they had the huge advantage of playing Ally McLeod's Scotland). Africa's hopes of a third quarter-finalist, to follow Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal four years ago, were slim after an unfavourable draw saw the best teams (Ghana, Ivory Coast) pitched against stronger opposition than the weaker sides (Angola, Togo, Tunisia). Ivory Coast succumbed, Ghana succeeded brilliantly against the Czech Republic and were brave against Brazil after a disastrous start, but were powerless in the end. The others, Angola especially, were not disgraced, but failed none the less. So, for the third tournament in a row, since the total teams reached 32 and Africa's allocation became five, just one of that quintet made it out of the group stage. Why does all this matter? Well, as I've written before, the allocation of places in the finals is a matter of constant debate. For this tournament, Oceania were initially granted an automatic spot, only for South American lobbying to see that decision reversed. Justice was done when Australia beat Uruguay, at least, but there's plenty more polticking to come over what happens now. For instance, with Australia now in Asia, what happens to Oceania? Will New Zealand, barring upset, inherit the play-off with the fifth team in South America? Or will Asia try to lay claim to it, to add to the existing play-off with a CONCACAF side? After all, with so many countries competing for just four automatic spots, the presence of the Aussies makes life harder. And the next World Cup is in South Africa, the first in the continent. One place will go to the hosts. Should the rest of Africa have just four places to compete for? It was such pressures that saw a 16-team event increased to 24 in 1982 then 32 in 1998. How do you square the obligation to give reasonable representation to each continent with the need to have the best teams? The easy target is always the largest allocation. Shave a team off Europe and they will still have the most teams by some distance. But the strong results of the UEFA sides demonstrates that such a move would weaken the competition. Africa had four first-round failures from five teams; Europe had four first-round failures from 14 teams. In fact, if any continent has earned an increase for 2010 it is Europe. That won't happen, even if Germany and France beat Argentina and Brazil to give the UEFA countries a clean sweep of the semi-finalists. But to cut Europe's allocation would be to damage the competition's credibility. The rest of the world had a decent chance and there should be no reward for failure.