Last night was a quite embarrassing game of football. England could have put out a team of Championship or even League One representatives and given San Marino a good pasting. A team playing a formation of 9-0-1 is simply not a football team.
It is not really San Marino’s fault, they have a talent pool of around 30,000 people, and the majority of their players are part-time amateurs. Students to plumbers; office clerks to bank managers, it sounds more like the tale of FA Cup 3rd round dwarfing’s rather than a first-class international qualifier.
So why don’t they address this situation. Sure the chance of playing against Rooney, Iniesta or Zlatan are great opportunities for the Sammarinese and other minnows to face the best in the world, as well as spinning money on gate-receipts for those return fixtures.
But the money making potential isn’t exactly criminal, so is there a way to shake up the qualifying.
Of course there is.
13 teams qualify from the European section of qualifying for the World Cup proper from a total of 53 national sides from the UEFA Zone.
So why not stage a preliminary round of qualifying that pits the ‘minnows’ of UEFA against each other before facing the big guns.
In my hypothetical qualifying campaign you would have a preliminary round where the 14 ‘worst’ teams face off against each other in three separate groups. Two groups of five and one group of four; it is a simple strategy.
It would also give the perennial whipping boys of Europe to face each other on a regular basis and maybe add to their current poor record of wins and defeats. It would certainly be more competitive than the current set-up.
You could run it completely the same as it is now, with groups drawn according to seedings relevant to FIFA’s rankings.
At this current time the ‘pots’ for a hypothetical draw would look a little something like this…
You draw the groups out, with the two groups of five containing Andorra and San Marino and the winner of each group goes through to the next round of qualifying.
It leaves you with 42 teams, seven groups of 6 and the group winners plus six best runners-up all qualifying for the finals.
You could even run it adjacently to major competitions in the summer in a completely neutral venue or home and away; either way it would give these teams more competitive fixtures.
However the obvious complaint is FIFA’s ranking system as many will look in disbelief at Northern Ireland and Macedonia having to participate.
So you could take the 14 worst teams from the last European qualifying campaign, for Euro 2012.; but then that wouldn’t be fair, as teams such as Bulgaria didn’t have the banker six points that comes from a game with Malta, Andorra or Luxembourg.
It could work; giving San Marino and co. more chance for famous victories to add to their already low tally.
Food for thought at least, surely as we could avoid games like this...
What do you make of a preliminary stage of European qualifying?