11 October 2014

Overhaul needed to limit international apathy

With England and the Republic of Ireland both predictably thumping toothless opposition in the shape of San Marino and Gibraltar this week, the time has come for UEFA to look into whether these glorified pub-teams should be given automatic entry into main qualifying for major tournaments.

Some may argue that as sovereign states they have as much entitlement to contest this as every other nation, but you also have to ask whether they are competitive enough to make their presence worthwhile and not turn the format into a politically-correct mockery. San Marino certainly aren't - in 124 games they have one victory against fellow minnows Liechtenstein. The manner with which they were trounced by an average England on Thursday evening should set alarm bells ringing for UEFA, who have made much of their 'Week of Football' initiative in this international campaign. The fact is, who wants to watch this banal drivel? It was a testament to the loyalty of England supporters that over 50,000 turned up at Wembley to watch a televised attack v defence training exercise.

Compare it to the FA Cup, which is revered the world over for its giant-killings. The likes of Sutton & Hereford, however, had to pass through rounds of qualifying to reach the big stage where their memorable scalps took place. The tournament would be a farce if every team eligible, from the Premier League down to the Spartan South Midlands League, entered at the same stage. It should be no different at international level.

Although on a much different scale, the same system could apply to Europe's minnows, who need to have to earn the right to face Germany, Italy, Spain et al in competitive internationals. This could be achieved by placing the six lowest-ranked sides in their own qualifying group, with the top two progressing to the play-off stage to take on those who have qualified for the play-offs in the traditional way. It will not only make things more interesting for these teams, but also rid us of the nonsensical borefests that England and Ireland fans have had to endure this week.