My seeds of doubt over play-off farce

The Jewish Chronicle - - Sport -

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,

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