Tuesday, November 19, 2013

France's qualifying woes actually reflects well on FIFA - sort of

Today's UEFA World Cup playoffs will see France attempt to overturn a 0-2 deficit in hopes of qualifying for next year's football fiesta. Apparently local hopes aren't high, with one poll stating 84 percent of French citizens think the task will be too great for Les Bleus.

Ask the French Football Federation, and they'll intimate that the team shouldn't be in this position in the first place. This is because playoff seeding weights group-stage matches more heavily than friendlies. Because France drew a qualification group with four teams instead of five, Les Bleus were unable to achieve enough FIFA rankings points to demand a seed. Thus, Franck Ribery et al are now underdogs in a two-legged playoff against a quality Ukraine team who might boast one of the best home field advantages this side of Iceland. (And the US.)

France always contribute to the World Cup, whether because of sparkling football, a soliloquising coach or just because of their general combustibility factor (see: Anelka, Nicolas and Zidane, Zinedine). The Cup will miss them - as it will Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo, whichever player should not qualify. Plenty of teams are unlucky during the qualification process and thereby miss the Cup; four years ago, France got lucky when Thierry Henry's handball was instrumental in the Republic of Ireland missing out on a trip to South Africa.

FIFA are certain to want France to qualify for the sake of marketability and improved TV ratings, but may benefit indirectly by the absence of such a major nation. For many years - and especially since the farrago that the winning Qatar World Cup bid has been - the game's governing body has been seen as a laughable entity defined by factional and personal self-interest. Not "rigging the draw" to ensure all of Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Mexico and France's qualification is the first principled stand FIFA have made in years.

We can now celebrate Sepp Blatter and co. actually getting something right! Unfortunately, as recent events have come to light - predominantly surrounding football's newest/tiniest powerbroker, Qatar -  this stand is comparatively small. 

As will be the comfort taken by French football fans should Didier Deschamps’ men not triumph handsomely at the Stade de France this evening.

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