The Case For Pre-Qualification

The Case For Pre-QualificationAs with every England international game, an old debated issue comes back to life for a few days. Most of the time, an England game results in the media discussing how England’s opponents have formed such a fantastic infrastructure and how England don’t have such a system for developing players.
Some of the time, the issue to talk about is how few British players feature in the top English teams. This time the articles are asking if you could get a more pointless game than England v San Marino. The idea of a pre-qualification tournament for the minnows of international football is once again being discussed, its intention to be to creat more competitive games and less poorly disguised training sessions. Personally I am an advocate of its inclusion, however unlike the majority of opinion which seems to be ‘I think its best so it should happen’, I appreciate that other people have an opinion. What do the players think? What do the minnows think? Is it logistically possible?
For the football fans that sit and watch these kinds of international games, part-timers against some of the best in the world, the game doesn’t seem to be much of an entertaining experience. The result isn’t in doubt, the nature of the game can already be predicted before kick-off and, for me the worst of all football crimes, a goal is greeting with nothing more than an ‘about time!’ mentality. Clearly, fans don’t enjoy these games. With this in mind, I would like to ask; does anyone enjoy these games?
The Players – The Top Level
There are two schools of thought on this one. The most common idea is that the game is an inconvenience, a waste of time. Not to mention the risk of injury. Sure, the game isn’t played at anywhere near their usual intensity, but it’s another game in an already long season. The other school of thought is that it’s a chance to get some goals and generally put in a good performance. If you haven’t been playing too well lately, you can enjoy a good game and maybe play your way back into form. The only comment that I have heard on this subject is from Robbie Savage, a pundit I like for his honesty. When he played for Wales against San Marino he admitted that the mentality before the game was ‘let’s get this over and done with’ and after the game the conversation in the dressing room was ‘how bad are they?’. Clearly then, the established names don’t enjoy going to a foreign country to win a game without having to put any effort in.
The Players – The Minnows
I think the brutally honest question to ask is, would you share a football pitch with some of the world’s best players for 90 minutes in the knowledge that you would be heavily beaten? For me, I’d take that chance any day of the week and it’s hard to see the San Marino players having a different opinion for when they played England. Of course there’s the chance that the feeling would wear thin on them, I’d also doubt that they enjoy the actual experience while it’s happening. But do they gain anything from it, do they become better players as a result? I would doubt that there is much to take from those games, apart from a realisation of how good the better players really are. Do they enjoy the games? I might be inclined to say yes.
The Nations
San Marino has a population of just over 30,000. The Faroe Islands have 45,000. Andorra has 85,000. These are populations that are smaller than most towns, and would barely fill the larger football stadiums. For a population that small, the economy would be equally proportioned. Having famous international teams come and visit, as well as the thousands of fans that follow and the media circus that always tags along provides a noticeable boost for tourism and thus the economy. As for the nation of the international ‘giant’, the game barely registers as important. If anything the game is an inconvenience as it is a struggle to sell tickets for the home match.
Just looking at these factors reveals the honest truth about the situation regarding ‘David v Goliath’ matches; for the larger team the game is an inconvenience, for the minnows the game is highly sought after. However, the reasons behind this are personal and economical rather than professional; I would question if they become better players as a result of the games. For this reason I would argue that the games are indeed meaningless. However these nations should be allowed a chance to compete for World Cup or European Cup qualification, so can something be done? I’d like to explore the much debated alternative; pre-qualification.
Pre-Qualification
The Champions League and FA Cup have a pre-qualification phase, that is to say that teams enter the competition at different stages, so why can’t international football have the same? The problem with this is how you would categorise teams, the aforementioned competitions can refer to leagues to determine a system where certain teams join and others don’t (for example, the top 3 in the Premiership go straight to the Champions League group phase, 4th place has to join at the final qualification stage). How do you judge which international teams have to pre-qualify? The FIFA rankings?! We always discuss how much of a farce that is, so to suddenly use it as a barometer would be nonsensical.
You must also ask, when would teams pre-qualify? England were knocked out of Euro 2012 by Italy and began their World Cup qualification campaign barely two and a half months later. Is there time to stage a qualification tournament in this time, for it would be ridiculous to start qualification rounds for a World Cup while the European Championship is yet to be played. Moreover, if you were to ask a group of minnows to compete between each other for places in the usual qualifying stage; what does a team do if they are knocked out? Wait for another two years before the brief pre-qualification campaign begins again?
It seems that in order for the system to remain fair the smaller teams would have to stretch out their pre-qualification system over months and years, and thus have it run alongside the usual qualification system. If this kind of system is to be implemented, and I believe it should, a new line of thinking should be developed. My proposition is this, a separate qualification system for much smaller international teams which runs alongside the current qualification system, let’s say the teams that finish 5th and 6th in the current system.
The winners of this new group are allowed to enter the main qualification system at the play-off phase, and are ‘promoted’ for when the next qualification phase comes about. To balance this, the side from the regular qualification phase with the lowest points tally are ‘relegated’ to the pre-qualification. You may argue the number of teams that are competing, or relegated and promoted, but what this system allows is fewer games which are trivial and, frankly, boring and gives the lesser teams more games that they have a chance of winning. Everyone is a winner, right?
However some cynics may argue why there is a need to change the system, an argument that I can fully understand. After all, the current qualification system allows the best teams to progress, so the main competition that occurs in the summer is competitive and entertaining. Tampering with this process may have a negative result on the main competition, less of the bigger teams qualify and a few minnows actually qualify. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
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  1. Dominic says:

    I think that this request for pre-qualification is to avoid another potential embarrassment. Guess which country scored the fastest goal in World Cup Qualifiers; that’s right San Marino. And guess which country they scored against; right again, England. Funny how the pundits didn’t mention this fact.

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