Proboxing-fans.com's lexicon of pugilistic nomenclature defines a “Puncher's Chance” as “[a fighter] who doesn't have a very good chance of beating the other fighter, who is probably more skilled, but could still pull off the win by landing a great punch and knocking his man out”.
Basically, a puncher's chance is what it says on the tin. It was the concept that defined all six Rocky movies (particularly the last) and underlies any sporting contest where one party is heavily favoured. This is never more true than in tournament football, where a 'keeper can get hot or a fluke deflection can win – or lose – a match or even a trophy.
As World Cup qualifying gears up, we're faced once again with the old chestnut of competitive balance in European football. This was brought to a head last week when big-name team England were pitted against San Marino in UEFA Group 8 qualifying. Predictably, the Three Lions put five past a team featuring a pair of brothers who run a moving company.
And, once again we're faced with calls to make principalities like San Marino, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein and Andorra undertake pre-qualifying in order just to get a puncher's chance. This doesn't just apply to Europe but also to several small nations in Oceania (perhaps finally consigning Archie Thompson's dubious International goalscoring record to the footnotes of history).
Yes, watching teams drubbed 31-0 may be boring; however, allowing teams that puncher's chance – no matter how infinitesimally small it is – is also the right decision.
Sometimes you have to endure humdrum sport because it's the right thing to do – just think of baseball's regular season. Football truly is the world's game and as a result it behoves FIFA to ensure the World Cup is equally accessible to all countries. For many players – home-leaguers, removalists and soda salesmen – a matchup with Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole will probably represent the highlight of their career.
With each added qualifying game, the puncher's chance decreases. How often can lightning strike?
Sport has become more and more streamlined over the past two decades, football especially so: the past twenty years have seen both the European Cup and UEFA Cup re-organised and rebranded into money-spinning leagues. Were the same to occur at the International level, not only is the park footballer robbed of his moment, but any chance of upset – or even unexpected challenge – is automatically gainsayed.
For a sport so openly seeking egalitarianism (the one defensible reason for the Blatter regime's failure to implement goal-line technology is/was a desire for the sport at the park to played in almost exactly the same way as the World Cup Final), offering everyone the same opportunity is the
fairest only way forward.
It's hardly like the lack of competition damages the sport. In contrast, it's likely to inspire youth who on one magical evening got to see a spectacular Wayne Rooney free kick and returns home to practice and improve. That teen could become Rooney mark II; he could also coach his local junior side.
American Samoa has only the remotest puncher's chance of defeating New Zealand in a home-and-home matchup. But they still deserve the opportunity.