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Tough qualifying period ahead for South American sides

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Tim Vickery | 11:09 UK time, Monday, 5 September 2011

While Uruguay's players were still celebrating their recent Copa America victory, their coach Oscar Washington Tabarez, with typical wisdom, was guarding against complacency.

"Winning the Copa doesn't give us any guarantees in terms of the World Cup qualifiers," he said. "They are much more competitive than this tournament."

On Friday, in their first outing since the triumph in Argentina, it took Uruguay just 13 seconds to realise that the Copa belongs to the past.

That is how long Ukraine needed to get the ball into the back of the Uruguayan net in the friendly in Kharkiv.

The Sky Blues hit back to win 3-2 - the decisive goal set up by Luis Suarez for Abel Hernandez, a jet-heeled, left-footed striker who, like Liverpool new boy Sebastian Coates, is a graduate from Uruguay's excellent under-20 side of 2009.

It is this conveyor belt of talent that is Uruguay's best hope of maintaining their momentum.

Tabarez is correct. The next set of World Cup qualifiers, which get underway in South America next month, will surely be the most competitive ever. The evidence was there in the Copa, and was reinforced in the weekend's round of warm-up friendlies.

It was there in Chile's impressive performance in going down 3-2 to Spain, the world champions gifted a highly dubious injury-time penalty.

It was there in wins for Paraguay and Colombia, against Panama and Honduras respectively, and it was there in the 2-2 draw between Peru and Bolivia - an excellent result for the visitors against a side stronger on paper than the one that just came third in the Copa.

It was there in Ecuador's 5-2 dismantling of Jamaica and it was also there, bizarrely enough, in Calcutta, India.

New Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella began his reign with a match against Venezuela staged in Asia.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi recieved a hero's reception as he arrived in India for Argentina's friendly against Venezuela. Photo: Getty

He used a 4-3-3 formation with Lionel Messi, the new captain, in his old position, cutting in from wide right.

Admittedly, it was hot and the game was played on an artificial pitch, but yet again Argentina were not convincing, seeming to add up to less than the sum of their parts.

Argentina won 1-0, the goal coming from a Nicolas Otamendi header from a corner. It was a rare lapse in concentration by Venezuela, who can take a great deal of heart from their performance.

In this match, staged in a new frontier for football, Venezuela announced that they have a place in the game's future.

The only South American nation never to appear in a World Cup, they have earned the right to go into the 2014 qualifiers dreaming of a place in Brazil.

This is truly a remarkable rise. A generation ago Venezuela were the South American footballing equivalent of San Marino and their progress is down to the work of three coaches.

Little more than a decade ago, Argentine Omar Pastoriza identified a promising group of young players.

A home-grown replacement, Richard Paez, improved results by tapping into the local mentality, sending the players out to win rather than merely to keep the score down. Now, Cesar Farias has taken them to the next level.

The youthful Farias is not to everyone's taste. He seems to be cultivating a Jose Mourinho approach to courting controversy, falling out with rival coaches during the Copa. However, he is clearly talented.

Still only 38, he has been taking charge of senior sides since his early twenties, and had a consistent body of work behind him when he stepped into the national team job four years ago.

In 2009 he took the under-20s to the World Youth Cup in Egypt, a landmark for Venezuelan football, and several from that side have been fast-tracked into the senior squad.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about his time in charge is the sheer quantity of players he has called up. Last season he selected 40 players.

Farias casts the net wide, but results have not suffered as a result. The ability to assimilate so many players into the process indicates excellent man-management skills and the clear communication of a tactical approach.

And now the net is being cast wider still. Venezuela's Copa America achievements - they came fourth and were desperately unlucky not to make the final - have raised the profile of the team and made them a much more attractive bet for European-based players who have a connection with the country.

Venezuelan-born but brought up in Spain, centre-back Fernando Amorebieta made a very solid debut against Argentina before being replaced for the last few minutes by Andres Tunez of Celta Vigo, another debutant with a similar background.

The stand out first-timer was attacking midfielder Frank Feltscher, who plays for Grasshopper of Zurich and has come through the youth ranks with Switzerland.

He has now thrown in his lot with Venezuela, the country of his mother's birth, and his strong running and ability to find gaps in the Argentina defence came close to setting up three first-half goals.

In the wake of his impressive debut, younger brother Rolf, a defender with Parma, will surely also be tempted to swap Switzerland for Venezuela.

There are more players, then, for Farias to feed in. If he can keep doing it successfully then Argentina might have something to worry about when they meet in October, when World Cup qualification points are at stake.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.From last week's postbag;

Q) I was just wondering if you had any news on the recovery of Giovanni Moreno? While watching the Copa America, I wondered how Colombia would have played if Moreno had of been fit, because they were lacking some creativity in the final third. Do you think the reintroduction of Moreno will alter the style of play?
Liliana Botero

A) On Sunday the lanky playmaker made his comeback for Racing in Argentina after six months out. Once he's fully fit I'm sure he'll be back for Colombia - the coaching situation is up in the air at the moment with Leonel Alvarez in caretaker charge, but Saturday's 2-0 win over Honduras strengthens his hand.

In the Copa they clearly lacked something in the final third, as you say. On Saturday they went with an extra striker, and it did leave them much more open defensively.

Playing Moreno just off a lone striker is probably the best compromise between these two approaches, so I see him as a vital player for his country.

Q) West Ham recently signed an 18-year-old Paraguayan striker on a one-year loan with a first option to buy. Any thoughts on the player?
Chris Edele

A) This is Brian Montenegro. I saw him at the start of the year in the South American Under-20 Championships and it's worth noting that he's young enough to play in the next version of the tournament in 2013.

He's well built with some pace and an interesting left foot, and subsequently he's done well in the domestic league for Tacuary.

However, the money men come in, with investors buying his registration and looking to cash in resulting in what I would view as a premature move. I know I sound like a stuck record on this one but I fear that his long-term interests might have been bettered served by staying a while longer and building up some momentum at home.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    South American international football is very competitive these days but unfortunately it has as much to do with the poor state of the current Argentina and Brazil teams as the progress made by others.

    Venezuela and Peru, semi-finalists in the Copa, have made big strides but are still very mediocre sides.

  • Comment number 2.

    Qualifing out of the South American groups is the toughest around the world. Every team can play football and has a least 1 world star on them. England and Ireland wouldn have a hope in getting out of that group stage...

  • Comment number 3.

    #2

    I couldn't agree with you more. Look at who England for instance are going to face "in their road for 2014" in which, in my humble opinion is mere walk in the park really.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hmmm with Brazil automatically qualifying there are four places left or five?
    Bets on Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile. Chile really impressed in SA and with a more experienced side now they can become a real threat.

    South American qualifying is far more difficult especially when you compare it to the fact Group E and G in Europe where one of the teams has to go through:
    E with Norway as first seed and Slovenia as second... come on.
    G with Greece and Slovakia

  • Comment number 5.

    Posts 2, 3 and 4 - I agree that South American qualifying is much more difficult, but to say England wouldn't qualify is ridiculous. They are ranked fourth in the world and only Brazil (I think) are ahead of them from South America. Although these rankings are a bit ridiculous, England still manage to fare very well against South American teams on the whole and have beaten Argentina several times in recent years. Even further, I would say that an intensive qualifying campaign like this would greatly benefit England as their players would get used to playing together in highly competitive matches and would behave more like a "team" in their tournaments. They would have no problem beating a lot of the teams in the qualifying group who often rely on one star player.

  • Comment number 6.

    The picture of the article is Messi arriving in Bangladesh today . They will be playing against Nigeria tomorrow

  • Comment number 7.

    I think it is high time that South America was awarded more World Cup places, perhaps at the expense of some of the mediocre European teams (England, Slovakia, Slovenia and Denmark immediately spring to mind from the last World Cup).

    Also @5 to claim that Brazil are the only South American team superior to England is laughable! I would have Uruguay, Chile and Argentina above them for starters!

  • Comment number 8.

    Actually 7, officially no South American team are better than England, according to the rankings:

    http://www.fifa.com/worldfootball/ranking/lastranking/gender=m/fullranking.html

  • Comment number 9.

    I realise that slating England is fashionable, but it does get tiresome at times.

    No one can take any notice of the FIFA rankings, it's completely subjective how points are awarded.

    However, England have certainly never disgraced themselves against South American opposition. In fact, the only South American team I can remember completely outclassing England in the past 15 years is Brazil at the 2002 World Cup with ten men, and of course Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho's goal, and in the 1996 Umbro Cup friendly when Brazil beat England 3-1 I think with Ronaldo in his prime and it could have been 5 or 6.

    Chile, for the record, have won 4 out of their last 12 international matches, against Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Estonia.

  • Comment number 10.

    I absolutely agree that South American qualifying is tough. In Europe, teams are subjected to the vagaries of the world rankings, e.g France will now have to attempt to qualify from Spain's group based on a world ranking low enough to be in pot 2. I would offer that the difficulty of qualifying in Europe is inconsistent and based partially on luck of the qualifying draw. Jamtay may like the look of Argentina on paper going forwards at least, there is little evidence to support that they should be ahead of England in any ranking at present from the Copa America, the game in India or anywhere else. (and they're certainly not)
    http://www.fifa.com/worldfootball/ranking/lastranking/gender=m/fullranking.html

  • Comment number 11.

    A tough qualifying but ultimately what is needed in order to select the best sides. For too long has the seeding system in football supported the better/bigger sides; i.e., Platini seeding the World Cup 2010 draw for the first time, coincedentally the same year France/Portugal/Russia didn't automatically qualify.

    Funny thing is, when these sides do not get preferential treatment, they hit out - see Fergie 'FA treat us like s**t rant (analysed http://markbritton7.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/sir-fergies-comments-explained-and-analysed/). It could be a very interesting progression in South American football.

    Great blog!

  • Comment number 12.

    How is European qualification inconsistent? The best teams will make it through, and luck of the draw- that's the element of sporting competition. The fact is - look at how many countries there are in Europe. They have to divide it into groups. They can hardly have a big league with everyone playing home and away can they? The club managers moan about players being away on international duty and too many games as it is!

  • Comment number 13.

    At Steve Smith99 11. I'm not sure what that blog post ranting about Ferguson has got to do with South American football, this blog or any debate raised here. It certainly doesn't explain anything about his comments, apart from Ferguson is a nasty man, arrogant etc.

    If anything it's another example of a club v country issue regarding the provision and release of players for international duty. And Ferguson and the English FA have plenty of previous regarding certain issues (the Cantona ban, the Club World Cup in 2000 for England's World Cup bid, Ferdinand's ban, various other little incidents and disciplinary matters) .

  • Comment number 14.

    CONMEBOL will have four teams qualifying automatically with the fifth placed team playing a team from the AFC in the inter-confederational play-offs. So theoretically CONMEBOL could have six teams at the World Cup in 2014 - Brazil plus five others.

    Argentina have not qualified for a World Cup since Mexico 1970 so they will probably qualify this time, although after what happened with the 2010 qualification anything could happen.

    With their conveyor belts of talent, Uruguay and Chile look good to qualify as well. And I fancy Colombia to qualify automatically as well, but I think a lot will depend on how well Edwin Cardona, James Rodríguez and some of the other exciting youth prospects they have progress at club level and how well they are integrated into the senior national team.

    As for fifth place, Ecuador's golden generation is coming to an end and I don't think Venezuela, Bolivia or Peru have enough in sides or in their youth sides to finish fifth. So the only team left that could finish fifth is Paraguay, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 15.

    Oh, and again at 11. "For too long has the seeding system in football supported the better/bigger sides"

    Yes, that is the definition of seeding.

    Seeding has taken place at the World Cup for decades, unless you mean the seeding for the European qualification play-offs.

    Slovenia beat Russia in that play off, proving seeding is not an obstacle if you're good enough.

  • Comment number 16.

    no.7 - i'm a little surprised you picked England here since they qualified for the last 16, whereas Italy were eliminated at the group stage. Also, if England, why not Portugal as they were awful

    no. 11 - not sure i follow as the 32 sides at the last world cup were by-and-large the best sides. can't think of any worthy side that missed out. without seeding, there would be the potential for qualifying groups containing spain, italy, france, holland etc with only one qualifying and other groups containing san marino, faroes, etc

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi Tim,

    What are your thoughts on Everton's new signing Denis Stracqualursi?

    He seems to have scored quite a few goals in Argentina but given Everton's limited purchasing power at the moment quite a few Evertonians are wondering what to expect from him.

    God knows we could do with him being the find of the century!

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh and South American World Cup qualifying is more difficult than European World Cup qualifying because there are only 10 teams (where the overall quality of each team is relatively equal now due to the change to marathon World Cup qualifying format) whereas in Europe over 50 teams are competing in 9 groups where 1 or 2 teams are head and shoulders above the rest, for example England in Group H or the Netherlands in Group D, although there are exceptions like Group I with Spain and France.

  • Comment number 19.

    I love to slate England as much as the next man, but I think they'd qualify from a South American group. Brazil and Argentina aside they'd be a good match for Uruguay and slightly better than Paraguay and Chile, and would probably finish 3rd or 4th. Truth is playing at altitude in countries like Bolivia tends to mean some upsets and a closer group, when Brazil and Argentina play teams like Chile at the finals themselves it tends to be more one-sided.

  • Comment number 20.

    England have beaten Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador in the last 4 World Cups. I know people like to be trendy by slating England without backing it up, but lets not pretend they wouldn't have a chance in South American qualifying.

  • Comment number 21.

    Yes, the qualifiers will be very competitive but that's not necessarily a good thing. As in the Copa Ame'rica, games will be low-scoring, mind-numbingly defensive affairs. Don't expect brilliant play, especially from Paraguay. They will probably make it to Brazil based on their brand of total non-football. Messi won't shine either but it won't be for lack of trying. I'm not looking forward to the qualifiers. Although I hope Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia qualify.

  • Comment number 22.

    @7 - MORE places for South America??? They already have 5/6 places out of 10 teams competing! Maybe it's an idea for FIFA to combine CONMEBOL with CONCACAF. In that case I'm pretty sure more South American countries would qualify, as CONCACAF only has 2 decent teams (US & Mexico).

    Much has been said about the 2010 WC where 5 teams from South America in the 2nd round, and only 6 from Europe. Yes, overall Europe disappointed (especially France and Italy), but still...no European team was eliminated by any team outside Europe in the knock-out rounds, Germany thrashed Argentina 4-0, Holland beat both Brazil and Uruguay (and drew away from home against both in recent friendlies!), so to my mind Europe is still, by quite a margin, the strongest continent.

    Due to have 53 nations competing in Europe for 13 spots, there is no other realistic way than drawing groups. Unfortunately that means some groups will be much stronger than others, but overall I would say the best-ish teams qualify. Looking at the FIFA ranking we see that 22 out of the top 32 nations are from Europe, 5 from South America, 2 from CONCACAF, 2 from Asia and 1 (!) from Africa. So, it seems South America has about the right no of spots, but Europe is seriously underrepresented. Of course, having a World Cup with 22 nations from Europe would neither be fun, nor would it encourage other regions in the world to develop, but i would certainly not agree that South America should have more places at the expense of Europe.

  • Comment number 23.

    Interesting to hear that Fernando Amorebieta has made his Venezuela debut - does this have an affect on the fact that Athletic Bilbao historically only allow Basque players to play for them?

  • Comment number 24.

    @16

    Russia and Egypt spring to mind. The former were unlucky under a last minute away-goal in the first leg.

  • Comment number 25.

    South America should definately have more places than Europe, they play a better brand of football. The european teams clog the latter parts of the tornament up, boring and predictable. European teams only figure so highly in the current world rankings because the system is so heavily slanted in their favour. For me we should have more African and Asian nations involved, and give other football federations the opportunity to grow the way that ours has.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    Tim,

    Any opinion/thoughts/info about Denis Stracqualursi? Think he's going to turn out to be of any use to Everton this season?

  • Comment number 28.

    @22

    There needs to be a reduction in the number groups and an increase in their size. This would allow for more competitive matches like in SA and less of the luck of the draw element which is far too big a factor currently. Once again Greece get a laughable group. They shouldn't be near the WC and have been living off the back of Euro for too long now, it was almost a decade ago, and they've failed to qualify for one tournament and did crap in the other two.

    They are a number ways to do this. One would be 4 groups of 10 with a pre-qualifying round for the weakest 20 members of UEFA, the same as all other confederations have bar COMMEBOL and indeed no different to what UEFA do with the CL and EL. Another is to merge qualification for the Euros and WC like they do in Africa, so 3 groups of around 15/16 with the entire process going over 3 and a-bit years. To fit in the extra games remove friendlies from during the August-May season, leaving them for the summer. There are far too many friendlies currently, often up to 6 if you include the summer games which is around 40% of all international games during the season. A 10 nation group would mean 18 games over 2 seasons between the August-May window, so 9 each season, just one more than now. If you reduce the number of international windows for 4 or so a season to 2 or even just one where all games are played you could fit that in easily, with a bonus of less disruption to the club game.

  • Comment number 29.

    South American football is dull and boring thats why all their best players leave and play in Europe. The EUROs, or Copa America, hmm whats more entertaning, lets ask see the televison ratings shall we and to say replace South American teams with medicore UEFA teams like Denmark, Slovakia ect with the likes of who Peru, Bolivia, Colombia LOL id put my hard earned money on Denmark over Colombia anyday...England To win 2014 knocking out South American teams in the process "Im England till I die..." :

  • Comment number 30.

    @25

    I strongly disagree. South America currently have 5/6 places for the upcoming World Cup which would more than likely include: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador/Peru. There are only ten South American teams and adding more would lower the quality of the World Cup (on paper).

    Asia and Africa only have a handful of good-very good nations between them and the places they are given are adequat for bringing in the continets' strongest teams, without far weaker teams beginning to enter the tournament. And (depending on the groups) only the likes of South Korea, Japan, Ghana, Ivory Coast and possibly a couple of others (Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt...) have any chance of progressing to the next round.

    However Europe have a larger quantity of strong teams, so in relation to this number, Europe has roughly the perfect number of World Cup slots. Some of Europe's nations, such as Switzerland, Serbia etc. are as good, if not better than the Asian and African countries, and so effectively, the strongest teams qualify for the World Cup. However the seeding for the European groups really needs to be resolved, with certain teams (Greece) being handed an easy group, when they should be seeded behind the likes of Spain.

  • Comment number 31.

    @28

    Interesting idea to have less, but bigger groups. Not sure if combining WC/Euro qualification could work, though. A pre-qualifying group could work from a purely sports perspective, as it would probably prevent 11-0 results, but it would probably not work because the smaller FAs need the income from playing the big boys every once in a while.

    Also with the Euros expanding to 24 teams in 2016 it might make the format too different from the WC, where only 13 teams qualify.

    The number of friendlies should be limited, or, alternatively, qualifying tournaments could be held in a few international periods of about 3 weeks, in which 5 or 6 qualifying matches could be played by each team, in stead of the 2-at-a-time that is currently the format.

    @ 30

    Agree. I guess it's also of question whether the World Cup should respresent the 32 best teams in the world, or should represent "the world". Currently it's a reasonably good mix of both, although some regions could merge and it's always debatable how many places should be awarded to each.

  • Comment number 32.

    to Jokerman (#28)

    I think bigger groups would be more competetive too and also allow for more chance for the mid-table teams to progress - more competitive (non-friendlies) matches against better opposition rather than the 2-4 they currently play every 2 years. However, I think if we had bigger groups we would have to somehow combine Euro and Worldcup qualifying to prevent too many games being played. Eg of how this might work would be - qualifying tournaments for Euros and top 13 (or however many slots we have that year) in the Euros goes to the Worldcup 2 years later. Or it could work with the groups giving access to world-cup and euros eg top 13 places (probably some playoff for last couple of places) for world cups immediately after the qualification stage and the euros 2 years later.
    Only thing is with both of these qualification methods for one of the tournaments is done at least 2 years before the tournament which runs the risk of some teams being a lot better during qulaification than at the competition (due to retirements during this gap)
    How well tams qualified could then be used to seed the Euro tournament to keep it competitive (ie top of groups go as 1st seeds, 2nd place as 2nd seeds etc)
    Still I don't think it is insurmountable and overall I think it would improve the standard of international football in Europe. Also think of it like this England would also get to play the likes of holland/spain/italy/germany regularly in competetive games without defeats meaning the end of the world. This gives us a much better idea of how good we are at a certain time. Currently because of the seedings we go into these groups with normally only 1 serious challenger to top spot (sometimes not even that) so we aren't stretched during qualifying. In 2016 when the Euros go to 24 teams then the qualification will be even easier.

  • Comment number 33.

    To DutchCourage (#31)

    Interesting idea to have a couple of longer periods of international fixtures. Though they would probably need to play 7 or 8 games in a 3 week period to improve the games per time - remember they've had a week together and will play 2 games so 3 of these is the same as being together 3 weeks and playing 6 weeks. However even if it stayed at 3 week period for 6 games it would help the manager as he would have the same group together for longer so can get them to gel better. He could also maybe take a squad of 30 and select any 23 for each game?

    In terms of the smaller teams - if they had the prequalifying then the ones that qualify would have the same number (possibly more) of games against the top teams as they do currently. Currently they will play one top (big money) team (occassionally 2 depending on the group draws) each qualifying period. So they would play 2 or 4 big games every 2 years. If the groups become larger and once every four years then they will probably have 3 or 4 big teams in their group so that becomes 6 to 8 games every 4 years (on average 3-4 every 2 years). If it stayed as 2 separate qualifying groups then the number of top games they play could end up as 6 to 8 every 2 years
    The teams that don't pre-qualify would miss out for a couple of years but I think we would see regular switching between the teams that pre-qualify which would balance it out

  • Comment number 34.

    @29

    oh yes mediocre European times like Slovenia who would beat "Peru, Bolivia, Colombia LOL" haha ill tell you whats LOL, Slovenia losing at home to that infamous footballing nation Estonia 2-1 in the recent Qualifiers...

    And lets just wait for England to qualify into Brazil 2014 before we claim they will okay?

  • Comment number 35.

    @31

    I think income is less of an issue now that UEFA will centralise TV money, meaning it won't matter if you get drawn into a group with a big name or not. The really small nations make peanuts from gate money, and tbh a fraction of the hundreds of millions UEFA receive from the CL and EL would be enough to replace any loss of earnings.

    Re. the merging of qualification, you've hinted at why it may be needed in a later paragraph: the move towards a 24-team EC. With a 16 team tournament my idea of 4 groups of 10 is fine, as for a WC with 13 spots, that's 3 places in each group, plus 1 playoff (similar to SA) and for a EC it is 4 places. However, the expanded tournaments means 6 out of 10 would qualify, which would kinda ruin my competitive argument.

    By merging it like in Africa there are a number of things you could do. The obvious would be starting the qualification cycle with the Euros and after you have obtained your 24 nations (let us say 5 groups of 10, so 4 places each plus 4 best runner-ups. The microstates are removed) they are split into 2 groups of 12 for the WC, 6 places each plus one playoff. The major problem is that would mean 22 games over 2 seasons, more than now, plus what happens with the nations who failed for the Euros? Then again, what happens to them in Africa....

    Having more games in just 1 or 2 windows is a no-brainer IMO. The 1 or 2 matches spread over the calender is a nonsense.

  • Comment number 36.

    For World Cup qualifying purposes the European nations should be put into 10 groups with the winner of each group progressing to the World Cup Finals. This would eliminate the need for the runners-up to play off against each other. It would also mean Europe losing three places - so one further place to The Americas (play-off required), an Asian country and another African one. Result = mediocre European sides eliminated in the qualifiying stages.

    Some would argue that it would result in a much poorer team from Asia qualifying - it might also result in more entertaining matches. IMO in South Africa the USA and Japan provided far more entertainment and skill than that offered by the powerhouses of Italy, France, Brazil and England.

  • Comment number 37.

    @36

    I see and understand your reasoning, however being an 'entertaining' team doesn't mean you deserve a place in the World Cup. For instance, Blackpool were an exciting team in the EPL, however were they good enough for it? Clearly not, shown by their relegation. Spain won the World Cup while being relatively boring to watch. Should they not be in the World Cup?

    USA and Japan will continue to qualify anyway as a result of the lack of quality opposition, and it will lead to more North Koreas being accepted into the tournament. I'm a hundred percent sure that 9 out of ten times, the 'mediocre European sides' would win, comfortably against these sides. It's a tournament for the best teams in the World, and that's how it should be.
    Who besides USA and Mexico will compete for North America? We've seen Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras try in recent years and fail.
    In Africa? Possibly an extra slot; Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria all have relatively strong sides, especially the primary two. But would the likes of Algeria, South Africa, Senegal etc be any match for the 'mediocre European sides'? I'd say no.
    And Asia? Really? Japan, South Korea and then who? Iran? Saudi Arabia? North Korea? China? Bahrain? They don't have anywhere near the talent necessary to even nearly challenge.
    Europe will have Spain, Netherlands, France, England, Germany, Italy and Portugal amongst six others; presumably the likes of: Croatia, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Ireland, Denmark, Belgium. All of these 'mediocre European teams' would destroy pretty much all of the teams from the rest of Japan, Africa and North America.

  • Comment number 38.

    By Japan, I of course meant Asia.

  • Comment number 39.

    It's pretty easy to criticise the way teams qualify for the World Cup but, in truth, if you look at the teams making up the tournament over the years then there is little to argue with. The usual suspects are nearly always there and when they aren't, it's a shock (England in '94 etc.). The teams that arguably make it on the basis of their geographical location rather than merit don't generally disgrace themselves and are capable of generating quite some interest (Australia v Italy anyone?).

    There is little other way to arrange European qualifying than the way it is done now. Bigger groups would mean more matches, would mean more disgruntled club managers, would mean further withdrawal of star players at a whim, would mean the further devaluation of international football in comparison to the Champions League, would mean the World Cup slowly became less and less relevant. This isn't an issue in S. American football for the simple reason that the clubs don't have the financial clout there, neither do they have the co-ordination between themselves to hold their FAs to ransom. Anyway, International football should be special. Keep adding fixtures and it will just become like 50-over cricket.

    So, the bottom line? Everything is fine. Nothing is perfect. No real need for change.

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    Dear Tim,

    The picture of Messi used here was taken at Hotel Ruposhi Bangla in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. It's not in India. Hope you will stand corrected.

    Thanks and regards

    Quamrul Hassan
    Daily Sun

  • Comment number 42.

    Oh, and incidentally, someone above has had a go at the Greek's living off their European win. Now, I'm not Greek - I'm as big an England fan as anyone - but surely the point here is that they won a major tournament. You know, one that counts for a bit more than Le Tournois in '98. England's ranking is living off the back of wins against Andorra et al in qualifying tournaments for the past few years (In reality, this is mostly where Greece's ranking comes from as well).

    I'd take the European Cup.

  • Comment number 43.

    And in addition to comment no 41.....it was the day before the Nigeria game, not Venezuela.....they came here after the Venezuela match.

    Thanks and regards

    Quamrul Hassan
    Daily Sun

  • Comment number 44.

    Kind of odd number 7 to take world rankings seriously as some English people now seem to be doing with the world rankings temporarily in their favour. Of course the great flaw with world rankings is everybody is not in one big league, thus teams rack up a load of points in their easy geographical location until they are quite good before being beaten by another OK team locally who then gains a massive amount of points for having beaten somebody who is apparently amazing. European teams rack up more wins whilst as South American teams can be beaten at anytime by somebody who just lost a heap of games and therefore drop. Teams from the other continents can rise even more easily. Of course they mitigate slightly for this but you still have some distortions, are Jamaica really better than Ukraine and Romania? Libya and Malawi better than Finland!? Wikipedia their squads and have a look at the clubs their players play for, I somehow doubt it!

  • Comment number 45.

    @39

    No, there wouldn't be more games because I added that there would a reduction in the number of friendlies, which would solely take place during the early summer. With that space is freed up for the extra 5-6 competitive games over the 2 season qualification cycle. There is no need for the number friendlies that currently take place, whilst more competitive games would benefit the middle-tier nations both on and off the pitch, which as happened in South America.

    Re. South America's qualification format, it is nothing to do with clubs' financial clout. Tim has pointed out before that the lack of a need for qualification for the Copa means COMMEBOL can spread their WC games over a longer period than elsewhere which allows for the 18 games needed. Europe could fit this 18 games in 2 seasons if it reduced the number of friendlies as I said above.

  • Comment number 46.

    I thought I was reading a blog about South American qualification for the 2014 World Cup, when from God knows where you wonder, we immediately have some infantile comment about England. What's that all about? Are people's lives really so messed up? I cringe as much as much as anyone about England hype, but some of the anti-England obsessed really are just as bad, and need to be told life's a lot more fun when you don't fret about the Jones'.

    I really loved watching the last SA qualification, and I'm sure this one won't disappoint either. But we shouldn't equate entertainment with success. Uruguay confirmed in the Copa that South Africa was no fluke, but they were knocked out of WC 2010 by a European team, who lost to another European team in the Final. To suggest that European qualification is a "walk in the park" and that SA's 9 teams deserve more than the 4/5 places it already has is proposterous. 40/50 percent of your confederation guaranteed a place at the Finals is more than fair share of the pie. And I would suggest that the few number of CONMEBOL countries, enabling them to have a round robin qualification format, helps raise the bar. That said, there will be a lot of European teams not going to Brazil who would give South American teams a good run for their money.

    And as has already been said above, actually England's record against SA teams, bar Brazil, isn't bad. England invariably qualify for the Finals of tournaments, and invariably qualify from their groups once there. While we might not be worldbeaters, we are not as bad as some people want to make out. I think we struggle against more pure Latino teams, like Spain, Portugal and Italy (the latter 2, sometimes), and confident superpowers, like Brazil and Germany (psychological). A lot of South American teams often seem to play with a North European work ethic that's in our comfort zone.

    As someone with a Venezulen friend, who once was a little defensive that they weren't so good at football, because baseball was no.1, I would love to seem them in Brazil. I wonder if Argentina's place is under threat!

  • Comment number 47.

    Overstating again?

    Yes the South American pool will be competitive, but it will hardly be top quality compared to some previous cups.

    Argentina are a poor imitation of past sides; trying to claim that victories over Panama, Honduras or Jamaica (three very poor teams) are anything but standard fare for Paraguay, Columbia and Ecuador is ridiculous and surely a 2-2- draw says as much for Peru being poor as it does for Bolivia being good.

    Yes Uruguay look a proper force again, yes Chile have potential to reach a world cup QF with the right draw but the idea that a group shorn of Brazil will be anythign but a walkover for these two plus Argentina is laughable. Paraguay will probably get fourth with the rest fighting for a frankly unearned potential 6th spot for the continent.

  • Comment number 48.

    to #47, Compared to the European WC qualifying groups, the South American group will be more competitive and better quality for various reasons, there are no San Marinos or Andorras there. Interesting comments about how England would cope in the South American group, but even if we didn't qualify we could blame it on fatique from playing at altitude, or the heat or humidity.

  • Comment number 49.

    The picture used in the article is wrongly captioned. It's of Messi's arrival in Bangladesh not in India on 5th September . They will be playing against Nigeria today in dhaka, Bangladesh.

  • Comment number 50.

    South America teams play football even if we say they are below England in fifa Ranking. England kick the ball forward and any time they get a ball player, Glen Hoddle, Gascoigne, etc, they are accused of lack of commitment. Please do not compare enlgand to South America teams. Concentrate on what Vickery is saying about the coming South America world qualification games.

  • Comment number 51.

    If South American teams are so weak and nothing compared to the lesser sides of Europe, then why do they always progress further in the world cup than England?
    I'm an England fan but to say Argentina look a poor imitation of past sides then what are we????? We apparently have the best side in years but we still lose out to the South Americans. I think there should be world qualifiers for the the nations, were teams qualify by playing teams in a group of similar ability, this meaning that of the top groups some decent teams would miss out on the world cup but make some teams take qualification more seriously (England) and then they'd do better in the actual tornament.

  • Comment number 52.

    @41

    Mr Vickery does not pick the picture and I believe he does not even choose the headline for the article either. These issues are dealt with by other people at the BBC, probably the editor.

  • Comment number 53.

    2,3 + 4. I have to disagree. England and Ireland would find it much more difficult than what they face in the UEFA qualifiers, but are you trying to tell me that there are 4 better teams than England in South America (Brazil are not in the qualifications, so exclude them for a moment). I'd say that Uruguay and possibly Paraguay would give us a close call, but no-one else. Paraguay know how the 'shut the back door', but they are not in the same league. Ireland may struggle, but they would probably have a good shot at 4th spot. That's not me being patriotic, that me being realistic. Yes, you have to consider altitude and heat, but the other sides face this too. England rarely fail in group stages and although we are not blessed with players of great quality, they are fit for the purpose of qualification.
    I would say that the South American group would make any qualifying teams much more battle ready for a big tournament though. The level is much higher, with no San Marinos or Maltas. Please remember that Slovakia aren't a push-over these days either. Yes, Paraguay beat them, but they finished second in that group after beating the world champions, so that comparison is a little flawed...

  • Comment number 54.

    jaysingh 1989: Can you clarify your statement that 'Argentina have not qualified for a World Cup since Mexico 1970'! As far as I am aware they qualified for the last World Cup in South Africa and I watched them play in the 2006 World Cup in Germany so what exactly do you mean?

  • Comment number 55.

    23. No. Bilbao only select players with a Basque heritage or were born in the Basque region. This doesn't mean they can't play for another country as much as it doesn't mean they can't play for Spain.

  • Comment number 56.

    54. Are typos no longer allowed on blags?

  • Comment number 57.

    48. At 11:48 6th Sep 2011, UnlessI'mVeryMuchMistaken wrote:
    to #47, Compared to the European WC qualifying groups, the South American group will be more competitive and better quality for various reasons, there are no San Marinos or Andorras there. Interesting comments about how England would cope in the South American group, but even if we didn't qualify we could blame it on fatique from playing at altitude, or the heat or humidity.
    --------------------

    Honestly do you really want to compare? No Sam Marinos yes, but then there is only 1 or 2 spots per group. What is tougher, having to face 5 other teams, at least 2 of which are of similar quality to SA teams and having to pretty much win all bar a couple of games or being able to lose upwards of 8 matches and still qualify?

    The truth is that most of the top 20 teams in Europe would make it through ahead of Paraguay and Ecuador (The likes of Czech, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia etc. would certainly be competitive and they are amont the 2nd/3rd seeds in Europe). 4 spots for SA would be the right number, the 5th being a playoff is OK I guess but up to 6 is ridiculous.
    --------------






    51. At 12:35 6th Sep 2011, sumo82 wrote:
    If South American teams are so weak and nothing compared to the lesser sides of Europe, then why do they always progress further in the world cup than England?
    I'm an England fan but to say Argentina look a poor imitation of past sides then what are we?????
    ------------------------------
    Who said they are nothing compared to the lesser side of Europe?

    And yes Argentina are a poor imitation of past sides. England are a slightly poorer version of their best sides, but that is of course still lower than the good Argentina years.

  • Comment number 58.

    People can argue whether South America or Europe is tougher. Take a look at Africa when the team that traditionally dominates their regional cup rarely qualifies for the WC. Also look at the variety of African sides that have qualified for the last 3 world cups.

  • Comment number 59.

    In an ideal, utopian world you'd have truly global qualifying over the full 4-year cycle with 10 teams per group (so say 15 groups = 150 teams) and each group winner would go into the WC finals and then the best second placed teams would make up the rest + host + winner = 32 teams. The regional competions could be a u-23 competion with 3 overage players (like the Olympics) and the other age-group comp's e.g. u-21, u-20 scrapped so age group football ends at u17 and so does the Oylmpics competion.

  • Comment number 60.

    Tim, with regards to Colombia, do you think new coach Alvarez will cap Atletico Nacional's Edwin Cardona?

    I saw the Atletico Nacional vs America game on Saturday, although he came on as a late-game substitute, he was a live-wire in those minutes, you would think with his height and playmaking ability he would get fast-tracked to the national team, there seems to be no interest on the part of Colombia's NT to develop and protect this player.

  • Comment number 61.

    @54

    Apologies, I meant to say Argentina have not FAILED to qualify for a World Cup since 1970 i.e. the last time they didn't qualify was Mexico in 1970.

  • Comment number 62.

    @8 - yes but as everyone knows the FIFA rankings are ridiculous. England are not the 4th best team in the world.

    i know how the FIFA ranking system works, but it is stupid to think a team who was won both the world cup and euro championships in the last 5 years is not number 1 in the world, and a team can be placed 4th despite in 2 tournements failing to qualify and then get knocked out in the round of 16.

    I would say Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina are all better than us and then Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Portugal are the European sides that are better than us.

    and @7, south america only has 10 teams, and 4 or 5 of those teams qualify already, although you have a point about the amount of no hopers from Europe in the world cup - but i wouldnt include England in the list of no hopers.

  • Comment number 63.

    62. I really don't think Argentina are better than any of the top European sides nor England at the moment. In fact, unless they get their act together really quickly, I can see them failing to qualify for 2014.
    It's not that their team is awful, it has weaknesses, but it isn't that. It's their over-reliance on Messi. He's a true great, but setting up a team to rely on one man (and still and young man at that) is foolish. Barcelona don't do this as they have other people that can win the match for them. Argentina are not playing anything like a team and neither do they have a squad that can get away with not playing like a team.

  • Comment number 64.

    We rely heavily on Rooney, we can fall back on other players but if there is no Rooney then whoever we are playing isn't scared of us.
    The same applies to Argentina and Messi

  • Comment number 65.

    Great blog as usual Tim.

    I've always wondered clubs in South America feel about their players getting called up to the National side during the league campaign? Clubs here really dislike this, but do the clubs there think about it as their player getting more exposure to the rest of the world, thus increasing their value or do they also see it as a bit of a nuisance?

    http://off-the-goalpost.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 66.

    Thanks Jaysingh 1989 for your clarification with respect to Argentina's qualifying record. Remembering of course that back in the days of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup the S. American countries were divided into groups. As far as I can recall there were 2 groups of 3 and one group of 4 and only the group winner qualified for the finals. There were just 16 countries playing in the finals hence the reduced number of S. American qualifiers that were permitted.

  • Comment number 67.

    Qualifying from South America should be quite interesting this World Cup cycle. Of course without Brazil that opens up a spot for a team which otherwise would be struggling to get to the World Cup. Here is how I see each of the 9 teams as we head into the start of qualifying:

    Argentina- finally look to have a coach who knows what he is doing, Messi will lead them and the rest of the attack is first rate but they still have question marks in central defense;

    Uruguay-solid on both ends of the field and confident after their Copa America triumph, Tabarez' trick will be to integrate some younger players into the team and he appears to already be doing that;

    Paraguay-adjusting to a new coach and still need to show they can score goals. Their strong defending suits them well in away matches but I get a feeling their young players are not as good as their current batch of players;

    Chile-potentially brilliant but also maddening inconsistent and still a team prone to needless expulsions. But they have talent and if they cut down on mistakes could be very difficult to beat;

    Colombia-yet to settle on a new coach after Bolillo Gomez' shocking exit. Like Chile, talented but inconsistent with Colombia's chief problem being goalscoring. Few teams defend as well as Colombia;

    Ecuador-lots of attacking talent but still have not gelled as a team and sometimes prone to mental mistakes. Looking for an onfield leader with Hurtado off the scene and Mendez nearing the end of his national team days;

    Peru- showed their potential with 3rd place finish in Copa America. Coach Sergio Markarian has them playing like a team not a group of individuals and that has been missing from Peruvian football since the early 1980s. But this is another team which has a tendency to make mistakes which they need to cut down on if they are to qualify for 2014;

    Venezuela-much improved and more confident but still probably one of the least talented teams in South America. But they no longer play with fear and must be respected in qualifying;

    Bolivia-the least talented team in South America, they must take advantage of playing at home in the high altitude of La Paz. If they win their home games they can stay in the race.

    Soccer Futbol Forum:
    http://z8.invisionfree.com/Soccer_Futbol_Forum/index.php

  • Comment number 68.

    Reading the very post on the comments makes me think, how far away are we before a Brazilian or Argentinian team fail to qualify for the World Cup?

    Uruguay have pretty much caught up to the two, but my fear for them is that they are experiencing a golden generation of sorts, and with a few keys players like Forlan and possibly Lugano on their way out by 2014, you have to wonder how they will keep up after that.

    Chile have been making all the right noises and Venezuela seem to be on an upward curve. Peru made it to the semis at the Copa, and although Paraguay will probably never be able to repeat that winless procession to the final, they are probably the best defensive unit in South America.

    I reckon for the 4 other spots at the 2014 World Cup, we will get Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

  • Comment number 69.

    58. At 15:56 6th Sep 2011, Philao wrote:
    People can argue whether South America or Europe is tougher. Take a look at Africa when the team that traditionally dominates their regional cup rarely qualifies for the WC. Also look at the variety of African sides that have qualified for the last 3 world cups.
    ----------------
    Mostly because the best teams in Africa are still relatively poor in quality/strength in depth.

  • Comment number 70.

    62. At 16:32 6th Sep 2011, david wrote:
    @8 - yes but as everyone knows the FIFA rankings are ridiculous. England are not the 4th best team in the world.
    -------------

    The rankings DO NOT show the best teams, they show the teams with the best results.

 

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