My seeds of doubt over play-off farce
THE GOOD thing with FIFA rules is that if you do not like them, another set will be along in a minute. No event is too big for a sudden, self-serving change of direction, either. The World Cup in South Africa, one might think, would have a clear set of qualifying regulations and procedures disclosed well in advance, so that all participating nations know where they stand. Apparently not.
FIFA have left it until now, with two matches to go in most groups, to reveal how the play-off round in the European qualifying sector will be decided. When all the group games have finished there will be four places still up for grabs, to be fought out between the eight best second-placed teams. A year ago, FIFA were briefing that these fixtures would be the result of an open draw, but then something changed.
Those with a suspicious nature think they know what changed. Portugal, France and maybe even Germany stuffed up their qualification campaign, so there became a very real chance that the World Cup would take place without some of the biggest nations, and the best players. At which point FIFA took fright and decided they could not risk Thierry Henry squaring off against Cristiano Ronaldo for a World Cup place, while the Republic of Ireland drew Slovenia. They announced that the play-off round would be seeded.
With Greece facing home matches against Latvia and Luxembourg, and Switzerland also scheduled to play Luxembourg, Israel’s chances of reaching South Africa via the play-offs are remote. FIFA’s ruling, however,