In November, every third national team match in the European zone ended in defeat, and in most cases – with a difference of five or more goals. These games have no tournament value, but they overwhelm an already busy calendar and increase the risk of injury for top players. The author of “MK-Sport” understands how serious this problem is and whether there are ways to solve it.
How many World Cup 2022 qualifiers have you watched in November? Probably two with the participation of the Russian national team and something else on the little things. For example, worthy games were Italy – Switzerland (1: 1), Spain – Sweden (1: 0) and Portugal – Serbia (1: 2). Strong (or at least strong) teams fighting for tickets to Qatar met here. But there were many times more games, and most of them had no meaning for the audience.
For example, here is a list of matches that ended in defeat:
Russia – Cyprus – 6: 0, Armenia – Macedonia – 0: 5, Malta – Croatia – 1: 7, Germany – Liechtenstein – 9: 0, Hungary – San Marino – 4: 0, England – Albania – 5: 0, Andorra – Poland – 1: 4, Turkey – Gibraltar – 6: 0, France – Kazakhstan – 8: 0, Wales – Belarus – 5: 1, Malta – Slovakia – 0: 6, Armenia – Germany – 1: 4, Luxembourg – Ireland – 0: 3, Switzerland – Bulgaria – 4: 0, Austria – Moldova – 4: 1, San Marino – England – 0:10.
With rare exceptions, not only the outcome, but also the big result in these meetings was predetermined in advance. It was especially painful to watch the games of Germany against Liechtenstein, Malta against Croatia, France against Kazakhstan and England against San Marino. What was the goal of UEFA when they brought teams together? And what benefit did they bring to both sides, other than allowing the top players to get some pretty stats? On Monday, Englishman Harry Kane made poker and in the list of the top scorers of the national team crept up to Wayne Rooney (48 goals against 53). Nice, of course, but goals in such games simply devalue his achievement.
And hence the next thought. How is club football different from national team football? The fact that the club needs to be founded, developed, breakthrough from amateurs and semi-professionals to the top league, and from there to the Champions League, and the national teams get the automatic right to play in qualifying matches of the world and European championships. And the postmen, fishermen and shoemakers go up against the star of English football, one of the best forwards of our time. Why are they so honored?
And all because the teams are representatives of their countries. And these countries were formed as a result of certain political events. Someone gained independence from larger states, someone won it back. Someone’s sovereignty was recognized by the European governments (conditional Kosovo), but someone’s not (for example, Transnistria or Abkhazia), so some go out on the field under their own flag, while others sit at home. But where is football in this story?
UEFA, in its quest to cover every piece of European land (and not only, for which they have a separate bow from Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Israel, Armenia, etc.) qualifying tournaments. Formal reason is beautiful – everyone should have an equal chance. But these are just words. In fact, San Marino and Andorra will never be at the World or European Championships. Anyway, until the tournaments blow up to 50-70 participants. And most importantly, there is no need for their participation there – football, of course, and not financial.
As a result, we recorded 16 devastating results in 43 November matches (excluding those who will be played on Tuesday). That is, we observe an absolute absence of intrigue (and, therefore, sporting meaning) in every third game. Of these, more than half – nine – generally ended in victories with a difference of five or more goals.
And all this against the backdrop of an overloaded calendar of the already grandiose abundance of football matches. Yesterday I had a chance to read the comment of one colleague that he was already purple to the failure of the Italians (they lost the first line to Switzerland and went to the joints), because the amount of football is prohibitive, there are a million events, and he is so full of them that he’s even does not react. Tired.
So everyone is tired. And Kane, who has 60 matches a year, and viewers, who have even more. And when these games become frankly passable, I would like to ask UEFA to return the hours of life spent on them to the fans, and to the ditched health of the players.
The most offensive thing in this situation is that UEFA already has a ready-made example of a solution to this problem. His name is the League of Nations, where they created four divisions in terms of the strength of the participants, and the format is arranged in such a way that in each match until the last round, all teams have serious motivation – if not to climb up, then at least not fly down.
Of course, for the qualifying rounds, four leagues is overkill. But nothing prevents from dividing the European football of the national teams into two unequal parts: the conditional major league (those who are fighting to get into major tournaments) and the second league (you can call it the Candidates’ League – it sounds presentable and even seems to have some meaning).
If the division took place right now, based on the results of the final qualifying cycle, then everyone who took the first four lines would get into the high society, and all the others would go to the second. Opportunities to directly participate in the next qualification would have lost: Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Faroe Islands, Moldova, Latvia, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Without which of them top-level European football will not be able to survive the next year or two? It would really be a pity only for the Icelandic Vikings, but: a) they themselves are to blame for scoring only 9 points in matches with North Macedonia, Romania, Armenia and Liechtenstein; b) would get the opportunity to break into the top league in the next qualifying cycle (like any of their competitors), for which they would have to be stronger than other “dwarfs”.
The right to play against the best cannot be automatic (in professional sports, at least), it must be earned. After all, we do not send someone to the World or European Championship automatically (except for the tournament hosts, of course), simply by the fact of existence. So it is here. In order for a watchmaker to enter the same field with Kilian Mbappe , he must be a little better not only other tailors and policemen within his 160-square-kilometer state, whose entire population will fit in the stands of “Fisht”, but also at least the same watchmakers and tailors from others countries. This is such a minimum, to begin with.
Everyone will benefit from splitting into two divisions. Today’s underdogs will have a good opportunity to play against teams of a comparable class, their fans will get a taste of victory, and their players will try something new besides trying to hide in their own penalty area. There will be a lot more football in this than what they are playing (and still unsuccessfully) now.
For big teams, two problems are solved at once: the quantity and quality of matches. England and France will play with teams that at least have a chance to give them a fight, that is, they will present a spectacle that will have a much greater audience interest and sell much better. At the same time, there will be fewer matches, which will allow football players languishing from a crazy schedule to devote a little more time to their health, recovery and training and, accordingly, to show better quality football.
Plus motivation. Now, in the middle of the qualifying rounds, half of the group members lose their real chances of continuing the struggle, and then they sweat solely out of love for art. But in the presence of the second division, they will have to give all their best until the last round in order to keep their registration. And then there will be practically no passing matches, which, again, is only beneficial – here both the audience’s interest and the corresponding attitude.
RESULT: The division of the European institute of national teams into two divisions will give more interesting matches of more equal and motivated teams with a less dense calendar, which increases the value of each game and at the same time makes life easier not only for football players, but also for spectators who are crazed by the abundance of games. Simply put, you need to bet on quality, not quantity.
The only problem is that the officials of FIFA and UEFA have not yet thought about this – they are in full swing over the controversy over the idea of holding the World Cup every two years and are too interested in the votes of representatives of the “small” football powers at the future FIFA Congress to risk proposing to Luxembourg and Liechtenstein stay without matches with England and Germany.