I’d be pissed off if I was Welsh. Not just because, well, I’d be Welsh, but because FIFA/UEFA have royally screwed them by not waiting for the end of the Euro 2012 qualifying to do the World Cup qualifying draw.
For those who don’t follow statistics as closely as I do, Wales were amongst the bottom seeds for the World Cup 2014 qualifying draw a couple of months back alongside the likes of San Marino, Andorra and Malta. The reason? Well, an eagle-eyed statistics geek (who runs the fantastic football-rankings.info website, I urge you to visit it) spotted that the Faroe Islands had a marginally better co-efficient. Given that Wales had lost their first four qualifiers they were floundering.
But wait…Wales have sprung into action and beaten Bulgaria, Montenegro and Switzerland, finishing only three points off a playoff place. As such their world ranking has soared from 112th to 45th. But wait Mike, the rankings mean nothing do they? Wrong. If the qualifying draw had taken place after the main EURO 2012 qualifiers had happened Wales would be in pot 3. Rather than facing Serbia, Croatia, Belgium, Scotland and Macedonia they could be facing Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Luxembourg and San Marino. Quite a difference no?
And it’s not just Wales who are missing out. Here’s a few nations who can feel aggrieved/relieved:
Pot 1: Norway, despite failing to reach the finals of a major tournament since 2000 and failing to qualify for 2012, were amongst the top seeds. Their reward is a group featuring only Switzerland and Slovenia who have previously reached the finals of a major tournament. Denmark on the other hand have overcome both Norway and Portugal to reach Polkeraine but now face the prospect of a group featuring Italy, Czech Rep, Bulgaria and one of the surprise teams of the 2012 qualifiers, Armenia.
Pot 2: Slovenia and Slovakia have got lucky. To be fair to them they reached the World Cup finals in 2010 with Slovakia even making it to the second round. However, both have failed to shine in Euro 2012 qualifying and fell behind minnows like Estonia and Armenia in the final standings. Their reward? Slovenia are in the aforementioned group with Switzerland and Norway, Slovakia have the might of Bosnia and Greece. Montenegro did impress in 2012 qualifying but their poor form in later games has affected their ranking. Still, they face England as well as the two Euro 2012 hosts (both affected by a lack of qualifying games to boost their rankings). On the other hand, Switzerland (who struggled in qualifying but nearly pipped Montenegro to the post and would have were it not for Wayne Rooney and another England collapse), Ireland and Bosnia-Herzegovina can all feel aggrieved at not being in pot 2.
Pot 3: Belarus and Ukraine were the two beneficiaries here. Ukraine can get away with it, their lack of qualifying games has affected their standing. But Belarus, a nation with little pedigree whose best player in history is Aleksander Hleb, snook in. They’ve never qualified for a tournament finals (or even reached the play-offs) and didn’t seem to get near this time. Still, they have been placed in a group with France and Spain…so maybe justice does sometimes prevail. And this is where Wales missed out, but they weren’t the only ones. Many would argue that Armenia were harshly done by when they lost in Dublin earlier this month and were it not for a contentious sending off they could be in the playoffs.
Pot 4: Bulgaria, Lithuania and Northern Ireland all had terrible qualifying campaigns by their standards. Nigel Worthington’s men have done a passable impression of a football team since narrowly missing out on Euro 2008, whereas Bulgaria looked truly shorn of Dimitar Berbatov and Lithuania have been usurped as the strongest of the northern European former Soviet nations by Estonia. And it’s Estonia who are the victims here. They could go to Euro 2012 and still face a qualifying group for the next World Cup that includes Holland, Turkey, Hungary and Romania.
Pot 5: Cyprus, Moldova and Faroe Islands made the fifth of sixth pots and it’s the Faroes that will stick in the throat of Welsh supporters. They were technically level with the Welsh but, with some minor rounding up/down, they beat Wales to a spot. Maybe they deserved it, and they do out-perform themselves when considering their size, but given the recent Welsh resurgence I don’t think anyone would rather face Gary Speed’s men. Iceland and Luxembourg meanwhile can feel hard done by. Iceland finished above Cyprus and still get ranked below them, while Luxembourg are one of the most improved nations in Europe but still face a group with Portugal, Russia, Israel and a very lucky Northern Ireland.
Pot 6: The pot Wales, Iceland and Luxembourg all shouldn’t be in. The teams in here who have benefitted/been hard done by have been mentioned. But spare a thought for Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Malta, Andorra and San Marino…rock bottom in Europe.
A lot of useless info? Probably. But it’s another example of UEFA/FIFA incompetence. Is it fair to judge a nation based on half a campaign? I’m a firm defender of the world rankings but the judgement of nations halfway through a campaign, especially as the final fixtures/dates/venues are yet to be decided, is ludicrous. There’s nine nations who will face a harder path to Brazil than they should. Might not seem like much, but if England were facing Spain, Czech Rep, Poland, Armenia and Wales you wouldn’t be too happy.