else might be said about UEFA’s
Euro 2004 preliminary
draw, it was fair.
There was none of
the manipulation that attended FIFA’s
final draw. The seeding of
the teams had a fair basis—their competitive results in fairly balanced
qualifying groups in the last World Cup and European Championship--and the
seeding was allowed to control the entire draw.
The end result was 10 qualifying groups as fairly balanced in terms of
strength as possible even though some of them will not feature dramatic
matches whetting every football fan’s appetite.
European qualifying for World Cups
2002, England met footballing
powers Italy and
Germany, respectively. Even
in Euro 2000 qualifying, they faced a traditional rival they had been unable
to beat for 30 years,
time the big opponent will be
Turkey, who have failed to score in eight
matches against England. The rest
of the Euro 2004 qualifying calendar will be filled with home and away matches
against Slovakia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein.
England versus Liechtenstein—twice!—is not an attractive proposition,
and it is unnecessary.
is a way to ensure that the qualifying competition is both fair and
entertaining, or at least more entertaining.
It is time UEFA stopped treating each of its 51 member nations as if
they were footballing equals. Rigid
insistence on equality has diluted the quality of the football on display
beyond the tolerable.
should institute a first phase of qualification, as it has done in European
club cup competition. The weaker
teams—as measured by their qualifying results—should be required to play
among themselves for the privilege of entering the second phase qualifying
competition against the stronger teams. The
weaker teams still have a chance to win the tournament, although they must
first show they are better than other weaker teams.
There is nothing unfair about this; the seeding system UEFA already
employs is itself based on team merit and greatly affects the qualification
prospects of the weaker teams.
benefits are considerable. The
second stage of qualification would involve fewer groups, each group including
at least two and perhaps three of the stronger teams, with the top two or
three teams qualifying for the final tournament.
That would mean each group would feature several matches most fans
would consider worth watching. The
same should be done in World Cup qualifying from Europe. The result would be many more quality matches, and the winner
would be football.