Glenn Moore: Minnows given a bite at big time by Uefa sharking for votes
Wednesday 10 June 2009
That 70,000 people will tonight attempt to reach Wembley, despite the Tube strike, is an astonishing testament to the combined pulling power of Fabio Capello's revived team, and the aura of the new stadium. Because very few spectators will be there to watch England's opponents, and no one will turn up expecting to see a contest.
Andorra are very, very poor. They rank 196th out of 202 in the world with only San Marino below them in Europe. They have lost 55 of their 58 competitive matches, the exceptions being a draw with Finland, and a draw and victory against Macedonia, all during the World Cup 2006 qualifying campaign. It proved a false dawn. They finished bottom of the group and have lost their 20 subsequent competitive matches.
Which prompts the question, at a time when the workload of leading internationals is constantly criticised, why are England playing Andorra? Why is there not a preliminary qualifying round to winnow out the no-hopers leaving those minnows capable of the odd shock, as when Northern Ireland beat England? Their inclusion may seem romantic, but it is not when a key element of their defence is kicking opponents.
As so often the answer is politics. Uefa and Fifa, the game's governing bodies in Europe and the world respectively, are one-nation, one-vote democracies. Admirable in a way, but also ludicrous. Montserrat, who last played a match in March 2008 – a 7-1 home defeat to Surinam – carry as much influence as Brazil, the five-time World Cup winners, whose population is 42,000 times as large.
There are two significant consequences of this. It is in Uefa's interest to sanction international playing rights for Andorra and San Marino, as that gives Uefa two more votes. It also means anyone aspiring to hold office in Uefa needs to consider those nations' interests. Indeed, the current president of Uefa, Michel Platini, actively sought the votes of weaker football nations by advocating greater access for their clubs to the group stages of the Champions League, an election pledge he partly delivers next season. Suggesting those nations, who generate huge income when they get drawn against countries such as England – primarily in television rights, but also gate money and sponsorship – should pre-qualify would be a vote-loser. And the Football Association, seeking support for the 2018 World Cup bid,is not about to suggest it.
Qualifying groups have long included weak nations. England beat Luxembourg 9-0 in 1960, and again in 1982. They won 8-0 in Istanbul in 1984, and repeated the score when Turkey came to Wembley three years later. Which highlights the only football argument against pre-qualifying. Luxembourg are still mediocre, but Turkey reached the 2002 World Cup semi-final. Their improvement was hastened by playing better sides.
The problem is there are now so many "European" nations, and not just because the region has stretched to Kazakhstan. Two decades ago Uefa had 33 members. Now, largely due to the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, it has 53. Among the newcomers are all five of England's current qualifying opponents, Andorra only being admitted to Uefa in 1996. Thirteen years later their inclusion remains very hard to justify.
Group Six: State of play
A victory tonight would put England a win from qualification for next year's World Cup finals – something they would achieve by beating Croatia in September. A Kazakhstan win over Ukraine tonight, coupled with Belarus beating Croatia in August – however unlikely – would also see England qualify.
England's Results so far
6 Sep 2008: Andorra 0 England 2
10 Sep: Croatia 1 England 4
11 Oct: England 5 Kazakhstan 1
15 Oct: Belarus 1 England 3
1 Apr 2009: England 2 Ukraine 1
6 Jun: Kazakhstan 0 England 4
Tonight: Andorra (h), 9 Sep Croatia (h), 10 Oct Ukraine (a), 14 Oct Belarus (h)
Andorra's three to watch
Koldo (FC Andorra) 38-year-old goalkeeper, 75 caps
Former Real Madrid youth product who played in Spain before coming back to Andorra last year to coach, yet remains first choice for the national team.
Ildefons Sola Lima (Triestina [Italy]) 29-year-old striker, 66 caps, 6 goals
Rated as their most talented player, a centre-back for his club, but a striker for his country. Tall and good in the air, Lima is Andorra's all-time top scorer with six.
Oscar Sonejee (Santa Coloma) 33-year-old defender, 84 caps, 2 goals
Andorra's most capped player, the insurance salesman is a combative midfielder, as shown by his battle with Wayne Rooney in a qualifier for Euro 2008.
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