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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES

South America Isn't in a Spot to Complain

January 26, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

That constant, repetitive, annoying whine in the air has been tracked to its source. It comes from South America.

There, despite economic mismanagement and organizational chaos in almost every soccer league and governing federation, the sport's leaders apparently have little else to do but complain about the four places the continent was allocated last month for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

They want more.

Well, that's too bad, because if there is any region other than CONCACAF that has more than its rightful share of places, that region is South America. Four places represent 40% of the continent's 10 soccer-playing countries.

If Europe had that same percentage, it would get at least 20 places. Instead, it has 14. If Africa had that same percentage, it would get at least 21 places. Instead, it has five. If Asia had that same percentage, it would get at least 17 places. Instead, it has 4.5.

Nicolas Leoz, the 73-year-old Paraguayan now in his 17th year as president of CONMEBOL, South America's confederation, calls FIFA's decision to give his continent only four places "a punishment and an enormous injustice for our association."

Twaddle.

Leoz argues that South America has provided nine of the 17 World Cup winners.

So what? All that means is that Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are (or in Uruguay's case, were) powerful soccer nations. As such, they should not have any difficulty being among the four teams that qualify for Germany 2006.

And if they are worried about qualifying, then perhaps they don't deserve to and some more worthy country will take their place.

Luis Chiriboga, president of the Ecuadorean federation, mumbles incoherently about "the dictatorship of the [FIFA] vote," and suggests that the planned playoff between CONCACAF and Asia for the 32nd and last berth in 2006 be widened to include South America and Europe.

Again, twaddle.

Worse yet comes a suggestion from the insufferable Ricardo Teixeira, autocratic president of the Brazilian federation. England's Daily Mail newspaper reported recently that Teixeira, in all seriousness, will propose expanding the World Cup field from 32 teams to 40.

The idea is laughable and ludicrous.

Of course, it was Teixeira's father-in-law, the equally insufferable Joao Havelange, who, when he was president of FIFA, expanded the field from 24 to 32 to help himself get reelected.

Thirty-two teams make for an already unwieldy tournament and has severely reduced the number of nations capable of playing host to the World Cup. Forty teams would be impossible, but that has not deterred Teixeira.

And the worry is that it might not deter Havelange's former right hand man, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, FIFA's current president.

As long as advancement to the World Cup is based on geography and not ability, it will be an unfair competition. The tournament should, by rights, feature the best 32 teams in the world regardless of where they are from.

Because politics will never allow that to happen, the next-best method would be a round-by-round worldwide blind draw featuring every country that enters the tournament. Qualifying would be by single-elimination. The first team drawn plays at home.

If poorer countries cannot afford the costs involved, FIFA should pay them. That would be decidedly better than wasting the $1 million it gives each of its 204 member countries every four years.

Eventually, the field would be cut to the 32 survivors that would make up the World Cup field.

That's how a cup competition is supposed to be organized.

Meanwhile, FIFA's executive committee has agreed to listen to South America's complaints when it meets in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 6-7.

If the committee does anything other than to tell South America to sit down and be quiet, it will have failed yet again in its leadership role.

*

Memo to CONCACAF

CONCACAF has yet to announce the schedule for what is allegedly its premier club tournament, the Champions Cup. Without it, the Galaxy and other Major League Soccer teams are left hanging.

Nor has CONCACAF announced where the 2003 Gold Cup will be played. But don't worry, it's not until July.

Nor has CONCACAF yet figured out when and where the regional qualifying tournament will be held for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Memo to Jack Warner, CONCACAF's president: The ship is burning and the sharks are circling. Isn't it time to get it together?

*

Ranking the Women

A day late and several dollars short as usual, FIFA has decided that the time has come to rank the women's national teams of the world.

Never mind that the men's teams have been ranked for a decade already or that women have been playing internationally for three decades. What should have been done a long while ago will now be done.

But not, it seems, until May 23 in Wuhan, China, where FIFA will unveil its inaugural women's rankings during the draw for the fourth FIFA Women's World Cup.

According to FIFA, the "stumbling block" that prevented such a ranking from being done before was the lack of available data.

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