“The procedure for the draw for the play-offs in the European zone, scheduled for Oct. 19 in Zurich, [has been] approved. Teams will be seeded on the basis of the next FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which will be published on Oct. 16.”
This was the announcement made by Sepp Blatter on Sept. 29.
It effectively means that should heavyweights like France, Portugal, and Russia stutter into the play-offs, they will be seeded and pitted against the likes of Ireland, Israel, and Turkey.
In a week where Ireland exercised its right to vote democratically on the Lisbon Treaty, this announcement by the FIFA big wigs stinks of cronyism. It is another fine example of the democratic, wielding arm of Blatter and his associates.
Republic of Ireland goalkeeper, Shay Given, has lambasted the decision. The riled Manchester City player labeled the declaration as “disgusting”.
“Before a ball is kicked, these things should be made clear, and now they change it because some of the big nations are struggling. It’s beyond belief, if you ask me,” bemoaned Given.
His manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, earmarked the ruling as “the death of football.” The men in green look set to ensure a play-off spot with two games remaining.
But now they face the imposing prospect of encountering some of Europe’s elite. Trapattoni insists his team can still defeat the so called “big boys” of Europe.
What is the rationale behind FIFA’s proposal?
Well none of the ageing FIFA aristocracy envisaged France and Portugal struggling to qualify for South Africa 2010. The commercial importance of having marketable icons like Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry in Johannesburg cannot be underestimated.
The ‘CR9′ brand would suffer with the absence of Ronaldo. Nike and Adidas understandably want to see their ‘poster boys’ present. The Television companies want to cash in on the revenue made from advertising during the four-week media frenzy.
Of course, Caleb Folan and Tel Ben Haim don’t quite set the pulse racing. Nevertheless Ireland and company have earned their rite of passage into the play-offs.
And inevitably to a fair draw.
It seems ridiculous that FIFA have decided upon this seeding system so late into the qualifying campaign, having been forced into action by the incompetence of Europe’s elite.
It would have been interesting to see if it was Denmark, Serbia, or Slovenia ailing in the runners-up spot or third place, would FIFA have still legislated such a seeding system? I don’t think so.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Latvia, and Slovenia can feel rightly aggrieved by the decision. The trio currently reside in play-off positions after enjoying excellent qualifying campaigns.
But with the announcement from FIFA, they now look set to be eclipsed by France and company when it comes to taking that final step in qualification.
Ireland approach tonight’s clash with the Azzurri knowing that three points is a prerequisite if they are to harbour any hopes of avoiding the play-off route.