Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


CONCACAF PLUS 3.5 ADDS UP

CONCACAF fell short in its effort to gain an extra berth in the 2014 World Cup as the FIFA Executive Committee decided to give the North/Central America and Caribbean region the same 3.5 spots it was awarded for the 2010 tournament.

Under the allotment, CONCACAF will have three guaranteed spots; the fourth-place finisher in its qualifying competition will have a chance to reach Brasil ’14 through a home-and-home playoff with a nation from another regional confederation.

South America will have 4.5 qualifying berths, plus Brazil’s automatic spot as host.  Europe will keep its 13 berths, and Africa its five.  Once again, Asia will have 4.5 and Oceania 0.5.

One change:  A draw will be held in July to determine the playoff pairings among the CONCACAF fourth-place finisher, South America’s No. 5, Asia’s No. 5 and the Oceania winner.

The outcome, nevertheless, left CONCACAF officials–among them president Jack Warner of Trinidad & Tobago, who said in January that his region would lobby for an outright fourth berth– disappointed, if not angry.  Said CONCACAF Secretary General Chuck Blazer of the U.S., like Warner a FIFA Executive Committee member, “We are 35 members who are very serious about qualifying.  We want to be treated fairly and given enough opportunity to be successful.  Hear us.”  [March 3]

Comment:  Crocodile tears. 

Much can be said about how berths have been doled out since the World Cup expanded from 24 teams to 32 for Francia ’98.  Did Asia, in 2002, deserve two qualifying berths to go along with automatic berths that went to co-hosts Japan and South Korea?  Should Europe, with a high of 15 nations in ’98, continue to watch its presence erode?  When it comes to Africa, which had six total slots at South Africa ’10 and saw only Ghana survive the second round, will FIFA continue to reward that continent based on, presumably, promise alone?

For now, FIFA uncharacteristically got it right, for the most part.  Oceania, which since Australia’s defection to Asia has become New Zealand and the Eight Dwarves, truly does not deserve a straight path to a World Cup.   South America, with Brazil holding one spot, deserves its five qualifying spots.   And CONCACAF, which to most of FIFA is Mexico and the U.S.–plus, depending on the year, Costa Rica or Honduras or Canada or T&T or Jamaica, plus a couple dozen dots in the Caribbean–deserves its 3.5.  

At the last World Cup, the U.S., though first in its group at 1-0-2, and Mexico (second, 1-1-1) and Honduras (0-2-1) failed to turn the tournament on its ear.  CONCACAF’s fourth-place team, Costa Rica, dropped its playoff with Uruguay, although it should be noted that the Uruguayans went on to reach the semifinals.

If CONCACAF wants its fourth, it will have to overwhelm FIFA with its performance in Brazil.  The USA’s appearance in the 2002 quarterfinals won’t do, nor will Mexico’s in 1986, when it was host.  It will take that combined, plus a repeat of Uruguay1930, to do it.  That time, the U.S., 32 years before the founding of CONCACAF, finished third.



DON’T JUST FOLLOW THE MONEY

Qatar beat out a strong bid by the U.S. to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup while Russia was awarded the 2018 tournament in balloting by the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich. 

With 22 members taking part, 12 votes were needed to win.  The last-place finisher in each round was eliminated.

The 2022 vote: 

First Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 3, South Korea 4, Japan 3, Australia 1.

Second Round — Qater 10, U.S. 5, South Korea 5, Japan 2.

Third Round — Qatar 11, U.S. 6, South Korea 5.

Fourth Round — Qatar 14, U.S. 8. 

The 2018 vote: 

First round — Russia 9, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 4, England 2.

Second Round — Russia 13, Spain/Portugal 7, Holland/Belgium 2.  [December 2]

Comment:  So how did Qatar do it?  How did this nation of 1.7 million people perched on a tiny Persian Gulf peninsula, a country that has never even qualified for a World Cup, win the prize at the expense of the United States, a nation whose bid was the only one among the nine 2018/22 hopefuls to be given a 100 percent score by FIFA?

To many, the immediate answer was, “Follow the petrodollars.”  That, however, may be too easy.  The U.S. bid, after all, promised record broadcast rights fees and ticket revenues from a land that is home to many of FIFA’s  major sponsors.

However, there’s the usual horse trading of votes.  In fact, the trading season might have begun not during the bidders’ presentations in Zurich but back in August, when Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed bin Hammam announced that he would not run for the FIFA presidency in 2011 and instead devote his efforts to ensuring that his native land–Qatar–wins the 2022 World Cup sweepstakes, thus clearing the way for Sepp Blatter to win a fourth four-year term as FIFA supremo next year.  And beyond the horse trading, there was the geopolitical factor. 

Qatar’s bid borders on the fantastic:  Build seven stadiums and enlarge five others and air-condition them to beat July heat that can reach 115 degrees, then dismantle most and reassemble them in needy nations.  That grabbed the attention.   But two emotional appeals at the end of its slick bid presentation the day before the vote were telling.  One young man whose affiliation was listed as Qatar Foundation, a non-profit founded by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told of losing family members in fighting in his native Iraq, then recounted Iraq’s triumph at the 2007 Asian Cup, a feat that united–briefly–that country’s Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.  The point, though a pipe dream, is that a Qatari World Cup could bring together the Middle East.   The emir’s wife, Sheika Moza bint Nasser al-Missned, then addressed committee members, pointedly, dramatically, asking them, “When?  When will the World Cup come to the Middle East?”

The United States is not loved in the Arab world.  The young Iraqi did not elaborate on the “fighting” that claimed his family members, but most U.S. bid members must have felt their ears burning, at least for a moment.  For Executive Committee members with sympathies toward, or obligations to, the Middle East, Her Highness’ question–“When?”–could be regarded as a firm prod, if not an effective bit of guilt tripping.  And what would be more delicious to those leaning in that direction than to award a World Cup to a Middle Eastern state at the expense of the Western nation that looms menacingly over the region, from Israel to Iraq to Afghanistan?

At the same time, the vote may have been FIFA’s way of putting the U.S. in its place. 

The U.S. bid, on its face, hit all the high notes:  stadiums, infrastructure, profits, experience, diversity, and what could be summed up as “give us the World Cup and we’ll finish what was begun in 1994.”  However, it could be that FIFA likes the United States exactly where it is, a giant who has, in soccer terms, struggled from a prone position to rise up on one knee.  Perhaps that’s the way FIFA wants things for the time being:  a United States that is a cash cow of Coca-Colas and Visas, a credible competitor on the international stage but not a perennial champion, a people whose interest in the game is encouraging but not overwhelming.

No country on earth has the soccer potential of the United States.  If realized, America could very well become the tail that wags the dog (see U.S. television rights, International Olympic Committee).  And what FIFA doesn’t need is another one of its 208 member-nations treating it with disdain.  Like England.

Some notes:

          o  Five of the new stadiums promised by Qatar have been designed by Albert Speer and Partners.  Yes, that Albert Speer–Albert Speer Jr., son of Hitler’s most favored architect and ultimately the Nazis’ munitions minister during World War II. 

          o  Russia’s current place in the FIFA World Rankings–No. 10–is a bit flattering.  That’s six places above four-time world champion Italy.  Qatar’s place–No. 109, one place ahead of Iceland–is not.   

          Qatar has been trying to reach a World Cup since 1978, and despite a string of Brazilian and French coaches it has failed all nine times.  Its greatest international feat remains its loss to West Germany in the final of the 1981 FIFA World Youth (U-20) Championship, followed by a fourth-place finish at the 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Championship.  The hardware in the dusty Qatari trophy case:  Winners of the 1992 and 2004 Gulf Cups, both times as host.  Qatar also pocketed runners-up medals at the 1998 Arab Nations Cup, an event it hosted.  In one of its most recent friendlies, the ultra-rich Qatar lost to the desperately poor Haiti, 1-0, in Doha before a throng of 5,000.  According to the FIFA rankings, No. 109 loses to No. 128–at home.  Had the U.S. been eliminated in the first round of its 1994 World Cup, it would have been a horror.  Then South Africa failed to reach the second round of its 2010 World Cup, and FIFA apparently concluded that losing a host nation after three matches doesn’t signal the end of the world.   So it’s on to Qatar.

          Meanwhile, don’t look to the Qatari Stars League–a circuit of 12 first division teams and six in the second–to serve as a springboard to international glory.  Since its launch in 1963, it has won zero honors in Asian club play.  Its most decorated club, at 12 national championships and six second-place finishes, is the aptly named Al-Sadd.

          o  It remains to be seen what Qatar ’22 will do to grow the game in the Middle East.  Soccer is already the region’s passion, so if the event cannot further rachet up the game’s popularity, then FIFA’s aim, surely, is to lift the level of play there.  However . . .

          Arab nations, despite considerable capital investment, have combined to make 20 World Cup appearances dating back to Argentina ’78.  The result is a record of 7-38-15.  Tunisia has crashed in the opening round four times, followed by Algeria, three; Egypt, two; and Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, one each.  Morocco and Saudi Arabia have both qualified four times, and they lead the parade with one second-round appearance apiece, in 1986 and 1994, respectively.

          Because of a reluctance on the part of Westerners to travel to Qatar for the ’22 World Cup, the in-stadium audience for the tournament could very well be overwhelmingly Middle Eastern.  And if so, a wave of passion could see the world’s 109th-best team into the Round of 16, the realm of respectability.  But don’t count on it.



A NEW BID, A WHOLE NEW AMERICA

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in support of the efforts to bring the 2022 World Cup to America.  Introduced in late September, the resolution was sponsored by the chairpersons of the bipartisan Congressional Soccer Caucus:  Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Dave Reichert of Washington, and two House members from California, George Miller and Mary Bono Mack, the widow of Sonny Bono.

“We welcome today’s House resolution as another example of the overwhelming endorsement our bid effort has received from all levels of government throughout the process,” said Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer and chairman of the USA Bid Committee.  “This resolution further reinforces our country’s commitment to FIFA that we will meet all requirements for a World Cup hosted in the United States.”

The USA’s presentation to the FIFA Executive Committee in Zurich  is scheduled for the evening of December 1; the committee will vote the next day.  Also contending are South Korea, Qatar, Australia and Japan.  [November 17]

Comment:  It’s been a long time since the USA’s first successful bid to host a World Cup, nearly a quarter-century ago.  From “Soccer Stories”:

Soccer for years has been a favorite target of gridiron football types, from prep coaches lamenting the defection of their school’s best athletes for the soccer field to the likes of Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), a former NFL, CFL and AFL quarterback and vice presidential candidate.

In 1987, Kemp, prior to what should have been a routine House vote endorsing the USA’s bid to host the 1994 World Cup, told his fellow Congressmen, in part, “I think it is important for all those youngsters out there, who someday hope to play real football, where you throw it and kick it and run with it and put it in your hands, a distinction should be made that football is democratic, capitalism, whereas soccer is . . . European socialist.”

Throw it, run with it, put it in your hands . . . yes, Kemp was referring to a game called “football.” 

It should be noted that the late Kemp got it wrong on both counts.  It’s pro football that has a player draft and salary restrictions, devices put in place to foster parity among its franchises.  Meanwhile, it’s international soccer, where player drafts are unknown and the deepest pockets reign, that’s a model of dog-eat-dog capitalism.  Kemp evidently never noticed that soccer is the sport with a club called Millonarios.

Update:  The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in support of the U.S. bid, giving GoUSABid the full support of Congress.  Even the most conservative member of the upper chamber, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who represents a state where males have been known to be born wearing helmets and shoulder pads (ouch), did not run interference during the vote.  [November 19]



SO IT’S 2022 OR BUST

The U.S. Bid Committee has announced that it has dropped its efforts to host the 2018 World Cup and will concentrate on securing the 2022 cup.  [October 15]

Comment: The U.S. thus drops out of a competition in which the likely winner will be European (Belgium/Netherlands, England, Russia or Spain/Portugal, with the English favored) and zeroes in on beating Japan, South Korea, Qatar and Australia for ’22.

Said FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke:  “We have had an open and constructive dialogue with the USA Bid for some time now, after it became apparent that there was a growing movement to stage the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Europe.  The announcement today by the USA Bid to focus solely on the 2022 FIFA World Cup is therefore a welcome gesture which is much appreciated by FIFA.”

Just how much is this gesture appreciated by FIFA?  Is the USA’s move to simplify the 2018 situation a quid pro quo?  After all, England bid officials said as early as September 28 that they would withdraw from 2022 and concentrate on 2018 if the U.S. dropped its 2018 bid.  We’ll find out December 2, when the 24-man FIFA Executive Committee–seven of the members European–selects the hosts of the 21st and 22nd World Cups.

As it stands, what is perceived as a strong American bid only got stronger.  Japan and South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, so there’s no incentive to go back there any time soon.  Tiny Qatar (about half the size of Fiji) would win only if FIFA somehow wanted to curry favor with the Middle East.  And as for Australia, the land Down Under may resemble another New Frontier, like the U.S. pre-1994, but when it comes to the cash to be raked in, there’s no comparison.

For those who saw FIFA reject the USA’s bid to host 1986 out of hand, who sweated out the vote for 1994, it’s difficult to admit, but start making your ticket plans for 2022 now.  You’ll just be 12 years older, not eight.

If you want to soak in the official USA Bid party line, go to http://www.goUSAbid.com/