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Ecuador and Venezuela set sights on 2014 World Cup

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Tim Vickery | 09:59 UK time, Monday, 3 October 2011

As recently as two decades ago, when Ecuador met Venezuela in World Cup qualification it was about as significant as when Liechtenstein take on the Faroe Islands.

Not any longer.

This Friday, the two South American countries face each other in the opening round of the continent's Fifa 2014 World Cup qualifiers - with both entitled to believe that they are taking the first step on the road to the finals in Brazil.

Some of this faith comes down to numbers. As hosts, Brazil are guaranteed a place in their own World Cup.

Without them there are just nine South American nations taking part in the qualifying process. But the continent has retained its full complement of slots. Four go through automatically.

The team finishing fifth will take part in a play-off against opponents from Asia. There is a good chance, then, that in addition to Brazil another five South American countries will be present at the 2014 World Cup.

But even if half of the European teams made it through, the genuine minnows would still not qualify.

And that is what Ecuador and Venezuela were until comparatively recently - mere cannon fodder for the traditional teams to boost their goal difference.

Cristian Benitez managed just four goals in 36 appearances whilst on loan at Birmingham City. Photo: Getty

Times have changed, however, and the biggest single factor behind this was the introduction 15 years ago of a new format for World Cup qualification.

Up until the 1994 tournament, the South American nations were split into groups. There were few games, the process was over quickly and since the Copa America - the continent's equivalent of the European Championships - has no need of qualifiers, there were intervals of years with no competitive fixtures.

It was easy enough for the likes of Brazil and Argentina to arrange high-profile friendlies to fill the downtime. It was much harder for the lesser nations.

For the France '98 qualifiers, the South American nations were placed in one big group, playing each other home and away in a marathon league.

This was a hugely significant switch. It gave the continent's less traditional countries the kind of structure taken for granted by all European national teams - a calendar of regular competitive games.

A team could grow together, developing in terms of tactics and confidence. Guaranteed income meant the weaker nations could appoint good coaches and invest in youth development.

The figures speak for themselves. Before the switch Ecuador had only ever won five World Cup qualifiers. They won six in that next campaign, narrowly missing out on a place in France 1998, before making their World Cup debut four years later and reaching the last 16 in 2006.

Venezuela, a land more associated with baseball and beauty contests, had only ever won two qualifying matches. They turned the corner in 2001, stringing together four consecutive stylish victories.

In 2004 they secured a famous 3-0 triumph away to Uruguay in Montevideo's Centenario stadium - at that time Brazil had never managed a win there in a World Cup qualifier or a Copa America game.

In fact, they now only have the scalps of Brazil and Argentina left to take in full competitive matches - they deservedly beat Brazil in a friendly on neutral ground three years ago, and they will have a crack at Argentina next Tuesday in the second round of the 2014 campaign.

That game, in Puerto La Cruz, will be one of the biggest and most glamorous ever played by the Venezuelan national team.

First, though, comes the trip to Quito to take on Ecuador an an immediate reminder of the problem of picking up away points in South America.

Distances are vast and there are differences in conditions to be overcome - such as the altitude of Quito.

At 3,600 metres above sea level, Bolivia's mountain fortress of La Paz is the venue no one relishes. In the 2010 campaign, while he was coaching Argentina, Diego Maradona painfully discovered that motivational slogans were not enough to deal with the effects of altitude. His side lost 6-1.

Quito, at 2,800 metres, is not so extreme, but it also constitutes a problem for unacclimatised opponents.

Then there is the quality of the team. Ecuador are having problems replacing some of the golden generation who took them to the World Cups of 2002 and 2006, especially in defence. But they have some firepower.

With Cristian Benitez (strange that no one in England picked him up after his time with Birmingham) and the emerging Cristian Suarez, they have quick, strong strikers capable of making Venezuela suffer in the rarefied air.

For this reason, Venezuela coach Cesar Farias has been making special plans. He has chosen different squads for the two forthcoming games - a group of 22 to travel to Ecuador, and 24 to host Argentina.

Only nine players appear in both and the bulk of the Ecuador party have been receiving specialist altitude training.

Such attention to detail could end up being vital. Every point matters in what has surely become the most competitive World Cup qualifiers on the planet.

In the 2010 qualifiers the team that came fifth, and made it through to play-off against Costa Rica, finished the campaign on 24 points, just one ahead of sixth-placed Ecuador and two in front of Venezuela, who were eighth.

That team was Uruguay, who went on to reach the semi-finals in South Africa, and won the 2011 Copa America. Brazil is where they won their last World Cup back in 1950.

Yet Uruguay kick off the 2014 campaign at home to Bolivia on Friday well aware that the emergence of the likes of Ecuador and Venezuela means there is no guarantee of a place in Brazil this time.

Comments on the piece are welcome below. Questions on South American football can be emailed to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week. Here are some from last week's postbag:

Q) I was wondering what your thoughts were on an international recall for my favourite player Fabricio Coloccini. After a difficult start to his time at Newcastle he has been our best player for the last two seasons, and has started this season as our new captain and in absolutely superb form, Newcastle having only conceded three goals in six Premier League games so far. I would say does playing for a mid-table Premier League club count against him but our other Argentine, Jonas Gutierrez, has regularly been in squads under the last four Argentine managers. I would certainly rate Coloccini more highly than some of the current crop of centre-backs playing for the national team.
Dan Hodson, Newcastle

A) He had an immense reputation as a youth player, and his career hasn't quite lived up to it. I've always thought that at the highest level his lack of pace can be exposed and he can be drawn into committing fouls in dangerous areas.
As you say, though, Argentina are not especially blessed with centre-backs at the moment, and good performances in the Premier League will not go unnoticed in Argentina. I wonder if new coach Alejandro Sabella is going to settle on a back three. If so I don't think it would be wise to play him as either of the flank defenders, but De Michelis in the middle of the three is not quick, so perhaps Coloccini could come in there. I don't think I'd be in favour myself, but what do Argentina (or Newcastle) fans think?


  • Comment number 1.

    Didnt someone once say the world cup is a month long holiday for south american sides, its the qualifying that is harrowing?

    I would like to see Europe adopt this. Spain playing Liechtenstein is an absolute waste of everyone's time, as well as money. Pre-qualifying for small nations and then say 4 larger groups would do alot more than the rubbish at the moment.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Phil - I think the large super-group idea is great and like you said its done wonders for SA qualifying - do you think 4 or 5 bigger groups in Europe would work to improve the likes of Estonia, Moldova and Slovenia as well as the usual suspects......

  • Comment number 3.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree, Cristian Benitez is a wonderful player and one I wished my team, Blackburn Rovers, would sign. I heard for Birmingham to make the deal permenant would have cost £8m, surely a team like Bolton who spent £4m on David N'Gog could have gone the extra mile and bought Chucho?!

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes, it might be beneficial to have European super-groups for qualification, but how could it possibly work? The only reason it works in South America is that they have 3 years between the Copa America and the World Cup, and no qualifiers for the CA. Compare that to Europe, where qualifiers are needed for the European Championships as well, and the fact that there is only a 2 year gap between EC and WC, and I'm sure you see the problem. Then factor in that the big clubs are already pushing for fewer international matches, and as they seem to be running things in Europe nowadays, it does seem pretty unlikely. I admit it is kind of a shame, though.

  • Comment number 6.

    Agree with the first poster.

    Why on earth do the bigger teams in Europe still have to regularly play (and hammer) the real minnows?

    South America with just 10 countries is fine. All of the countries can be very very good. (Why no Suriname or Guyana??)

    But the likes of Faroes, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino.. they'd do better to play each other for the right to go into the main competition qualifiers.

  • Comment number 7.

    Are you for real?

    Venzuela is a country of 30m people, Ecuador 15m. To even try top compare them to Lichtenstein (30k) and the Faores (50k) is ridiculous. They have never been minnows on that scale. If you try to do it on economics or on "football money" then it's even more ridiculous.

  • Comment number 8.

    Sorry posts 1 and 6, but this is exactly the opposite of what you are suggesting.

    Tim clearly said that the minnows have benefitted from playing good teams regularly - there is absolutely no mention of "pre-qualifying" for minnows.

    The bigger teams play the minnows because it is good for their development, as well as generating income for the smaller teams.

    Point in case at present. With Wales currently ranked so lowly, would we prefer England v Wales as now, or do you really think Wales (or Northern Ireland as another recent example) would benefit from trotting out against San Marino et al.

    Prequalifying is a way to make the gap bigger - keeping everyone together is the way to close the gap.

  • Comment number 9.

    In fact a Pre-qualification tournament for European minnows (maybe at the same time as the Euro Champs and World Cup) would help the real tiddlers establish themselves: EG: Gibraltar, Monaco(as in the Monagasque nationals, rather than the French League team), Guernsey, Jersey, IoM, Aland Isles and the Sami to name but a few.

  • Comment number 10.

    I think everyone's missed the point somewhat...Phil is pointing out the fact that SA has benefited from being MORE like European Qualification, not differentiating for it. The benefit is regular games and guaranteed income, therefore enabling speculative investment.

    The European teams already do benefit from this in 2018 and see Belgium, Slovakia, Croatia et al playing much better. Larger groups in would result in excluding smaller teams as there is impact from upsets (see Blackburn beating Arsenal in PL - great but meaningless v Trazbonspor beating Inter in CL Group Stage - They could now have a chance at last 16).

    In essence it would water down any chance of excitement for smaller teams (and Wales could certainly do with it).

  • Comment number 11.

    Hey Tim,

    a quick question regarding your points about Argentina's defence. With such a lack of good centre backs and Mascherano enjoying a good spell with Barcelona as a centre back, do you see him as a possibility for the national team? i was very sceptical at first as he wasn't used to such a position and isn't the tallest, but he has been really good, a bit of a revelation really.

  • Comment number 12.

    While the article is very good as usual, I think (like Hackerjack, but somewhat more politely..) it is misleading to use the same 'minnows' term for Venezuela & Ecuador as for Lichtenstein.

    In the case of Lichtenstein and the Faroe Islands, they simply do not have the base of potential players to build on. In the case of a larger countries such as Edward Manning above mentions, it is clear that there is potential to improve football in the countries with repeated exposure to competitive football.

    Thus I think a better term would be 'underachievers' or somesuch, and reserve 'minnows' for very small countries that really will have a major problem building up a consistent challenge. Although I should for fairness say that Iceland is a decent counter-example to my ramblings as it is a very small country that has built up a semi-decent national team.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think Edward Manning has it pretty much right - when do the Vatican get to enter?

  • Comment number 14.

    The South American qualification system wouldn't work in Europe. Imagine 52 nations split into even 4 groups of 9 leaving 2 groups with 8. It would mean over the course of 2 seasons a possible 14/16 matches to qualify for a World Cup, then repeating the process the 2 years following a World Cup for the European Championships. This method works in South America because they don't have to play the same qualifiers for their continental championship. Can you imagine players in Europe playing 38 league games, aprrox 6-10 european games aswell as national cup competitions and an extra 7/8 internationals during the season when they already complain about playing 4/5 internationals a season. Then the World Cup comes itself, for the winners its possible they will play another 7 matches, then friendlies before the tournament, the best players in the world could be playing 60 odd matches a season.

  • Comment number 15.

    Personally I think European qualification is fine as it is. The continent is too large to replicate South American qualifying, even with pre-qualifying groups. I think that you've got to give the likes of Malta, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Faroes, San Marino and Andorra their shot at the big boys. They won't improve at all otherwise and it's not the fault of other nations if they're losing the games 4-0 or 5-0. In the 1940s and 1950s Holland used to lose games by massive scorelines, until Cruyff and Rinus Michels came along, and Holland is not a big country with a big population. In the 1980s, England were beating Turkey 8-0 in a qualifier, come 2002 and Turkey are World Cup semi finalists. I'm not saying that a country with tiny population like San Marino can improve like that but at least give them the opportunity.

    Nothing wrong with European qualification- if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  • Comment number 16.

    I would disagree with the posts that sugggest Ecuador and Venezuela better off because they get to play the likes of Brazil and Argentina regularly and instead suggest that its more because they get to play against a variety of oppositions. In particular those of a similar level (i.e. each other)

    In European football everything is seeded and spread across 9 groups. This means a team like San Marino doesnt get a chance to develop by playing a competitive match against similar opposition. Similarly the top teams stagnate because they get very few games where they are no longer the obvious favourites. Yes, middling teams, like Belgium, Croatia, Montenegro, Isreal etc... have improved over time, and this is because it is these teams that get the variety in opposition. However, shouldnt all teams get that chance.

    As an example, how many people have tried playing squash? When you much better than your opponent, you learn nothing. When you are much worse, you also learn little (but perhaps gain a good barometer for how far off you are). By playing regular games against people similar (maybe a tiny bit better than you), you steadily improve. I imagine Ecuador vs Venezuala is the real game that helped them improve as footballing nations and I imagine San Marino vs Faroes Islands is significantly more helpful for both those teams than letting in 9 goals against Holland, Germany etc..

    For this reason, I believe it is about time the European qualifiers were cut to 6 groups of 6 teams (Or even 4 groups of 8 though that causes problems by increasing the number of games).

    - The top two of each group qualify (top place to be guarenteed a european top seed in the tournament draw)
    - 3rd place playoff system for the final place(s).
    - 4th place qualifies for the next qualification without entering a prequalification tournament
    - 5th and 6th would have to enter the prequalification tournament next time
    This would keep all matches competitive and important for all teams, increase the quality of games, and help develop teams through increasing the number of pressure games.

    The prequalification tournament can then be played over the summer of the world cup\european championship and qualify the 12 best teams to play for the next qualification tournament to take the place of the 5th/6th placed teams.

    Unfortunately it won't happen because of nations like Wales, who would fear for their short-term prospects in such a system. My answer, would simply be that those teams need to get better then. Why keep a system that provides little teams a lucky chance of getting through, when you can have one that enables them to develop and get through on merit?

  • Comment number 17.

    @6 - Yeah I mean Italy certainly posted up a cricket score in Torshavn last month. What a farce. All those big sides hammering those little sides.

    I suppose this debate will long continue when England play San Marino next year.

  • Comment number 18.

    "The team finishing fifth will take part in a play-off against opponents from Asia. There is a good chance, then, that in addition to Brazil another five South American countries will be present at the 2014 World Cup."

    No offence Tim but assuming that Japan, Australia or South Korea have a bit of a horror show in qualifying and end up in the playoff then its not exactly gonna be easy. I would fancy any of those three sides to beat Boliva, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador quite easily. There are also quite a few dangerous floaters in there such as Iran and North Korea.

    Obviously it could end up being Argentina v Jordan and turn into a complete farce of a two-legged playoff but don't naturally assume its gonna be a formality. That's exactly the attitude you posted about the World Club Cup last year and were eulogising over the match-up between Internacional and Inter Milan which didn't happen because somebody forgot to tell the Brazilians they had to play another team to get to the final.

  • Comment number 19.

    18 - any offence to Asian football unintended - I only wrote 'good chance', not 'probability.'

    On the minnow status of Ecuador and Venezuela.
    This is their record in Copa Americas up to and including 1995, the last time before the introduction of the marathon World cup format

    Ecuador - 11 wins, 17 draws, 64 defeats, 93 scored, 246 conceded
    Venezuela - 1 win, 6 draws, 26 defeats, 26 scored, 119 conceded.

    The suff of minnows within their continent.
    Ecuador were already on the upward path - their first truly impressive performance came in the 89 Copa - 7 of those 11 wins came between 89 and 95.

    Venezuela, who only took part from 67, were not yet on the upward path. Perhaps we could argue that they started in 99 - result were not good in that year's copa, but they had identified a group of young players who then grew through the following decade - Arango and Rey are still the squad over 12 years later.

  • Comment number 20.

    18 and if I remember rightly about last year, more than eulogising about Internacional v Inter Milan, my approach was as follows - the Inter side is easier on the eye than the one which won the trophy in 2006, but much more vulnerable - which, I think, was borne out.

  • Comment number 21.

    the key to the sucecss of the South American format is no seeding as it is one big league. It would be impractical to do this in Europe but crapping seeding would be interesting as some of the smaller nations would have a chance of buidling confidence and results.

  • Comment number 22.

    Oh why oh why do so many people digress on this blog?
    The article is about the rise of Ecuador and Venezuela for heaven's sake. Also their potential to upset the bigger boys, mainly Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay in the qualifiers. Also their aspirations to qualify for 2014.
    Good to see the homebased players of Brazil outshining their counterparts from Argentina. Any potential stars there Tim? Is it time to replace Cesar in goal? He is not looking unbeatable anymore.
    Also to the subsequent contributors, please do not start a debate about Ronaldo vs Messi, or EPL vs Primera Liga arguments. Serie A is looking more exciting and open for a long while.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well I think Leichtenstein are a better side than luxemburg

  • Comment number 24.

    My guess is Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Colombia will be taking the top 4 spots and go directly, Peru will go to the play-off, they have a very experienced manager. Paraguay and Ecuador as Tim said are struggling to replace a succesful generation, and Venezuela will come up short, they will be tough playing away but at home I think they lack firepower

  • Comment number 25.

    I dont agree that lesser teams like san marino will learn more by playing big teams, what are they gonna learn when they only have 30 percent of the play and most of that is defending. I think they should have to qualify and that would help the big teams because i also believe that the big teams dont learn anything by playing the likes of san marino andorra etc and its as pointless as a friendly. Then because you are left with say 35 of the best ranked nations in europe you can have 5 groups of 7 and they would all be quite competitive games which is what is happening in South America. And whilst the main qualifying is going on the teams that did not qualify can play each other in some sort of cup say 'European Shield Cup' and that I think will be better for the lesser teams because they will be playing plenty of games where they get lots of possession and attack. And if you think that the big teams will end up playing too many games then just have less friendlies

  • Comment number 26.

    Interesting read as always Tim.

    I don't think anyone here knows quite what to expect in these qualifiers. Rueda was an extremely unpopular man after the Copa America. Although I thought Ecuador played reasonably well, the press made a lot of Venezuela being superior to Ecuador.

    Recently they've had a few victories and bags of goals against Central American sides, but most people are still unconvinced and a bad start will surely see Rueda gone.

    Failure against Venezuela will provide the press with more proof that Ecuador are going in the wrong direction so watch out for big trouble if things go badly.

  • Comment number 27.

    Tim, I certainly approve of a back three; I honestly believe we only kept with 4 for so long so as to accommodate Zanetti and nothing else, we sure as hell haven't been blessed with any other great full-backs since Sorin or the criminally underused Arruabarrena.
    Based on current form and, as it happens, ability, I'd have 3 Centre-backs comprised of:

    Admittedly I can not think of who is most deserving of X. Collocini perhaps, but otherwise Burdisso or Parejo, neither of those I would say are stellar.

    Anyway, very much looking forward to the qualifiers. I trust Sabella explicitly, and perhaps it's time for a functional Argentina mixed with a more fluent and influential Messi.

  • Comment number 28.

    Aarfy_Aardvark - save 606 said: "No offence Tim but assuming that Japan, Australia or South Korea have a bit of a horror show in qualifying and end up in the playoff then its not exactly gonna be easy. I would fancy any of those three sides to beat Boliva, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador quite easily"

    Dude, you really need to familiarize yourself with South American football. The AFC teams you mention have definitely improved lately, but to claim that they could "quite easily" beat the South American teams you mention, or any South American team for that matter, shows a serious lack of knowledge about the state of the sport in the CONMEBOL countries. Sure, in any given day almost anything can happen, but the outcomes that you predict would be far from easy to achieve. As Tim points out, all national teams in South America are quite competitive.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think it is important when you talk about population to take into regard the "playing" population of countries! new zealand is hardly as populous as it's tri nations compatriots but rugby is the sport there! the u.s is hardly a world superpower in football but the percwmtage of people who play it is small hency why in the 50's the u.s beating england was such a shock!

  • Comment number 30.

    Anyone know if the qualifiers will be shown in the UK? Sky had them last time around whilst ESPN had the Copa this year but it appears from schedules that neither are showing the first couple of games.

  • Comment number 31.

    The great thing about the information age is that coaches/teams now have the tools to learn everything about the opposition. In addition to Tim's observation that more competitive fixtures have raised standards, I think the ability to devise effective tactics based on factual, up-to-date information about opposition players/teams has helped the likes of Ecuador and Uruguay. This applies equally to Asian, African, and North American teams.

    Long gone are the days when teams could field totally unknown players or formations.

    to plan ahead o devise a plan everyone has the chance to leknow everything about anyone.

  • Comment number 32.

    Him Tim, Wouldn't having Brazil in the qualifying improve the competition? Obviously Brazil are hosts and would be at the World cup but could they not still be involved in the group pitting themselves against teams who are playing competitive and meaningful matches. Even if say they put out a u-23 team for the qualifiers thus allowing them ideal preparation for the olympics and the main squad could play friendlies. From a Euo perspective Euro 2016 will increase the finals number from 16 to 24 and France is hosting though surely playing competitive games would do them good and even if there was no automatic spot as hosts if they were not good enough to be in the best 24 they shouldn't be there. Obviously the world cup is harder to get into so I'm not suggesting that Brazil if they were in the group would not get there automatically as hosts.

  • Comment number 33.

    Another great blog Tim, I can't believe how much those countries have improved over such a short time frame, the qualifying for 2014 should end up being the closest ever.

    As for comments about European qualifying, we need prequalification ASAP, whether this is done with groups of 'minnows' or the Asian model where the lowest ranked nations just play-off head-to-head to get into the groups with the 'big boys', it doesn't really matter, but the current system where (as others have said) the likes of Holland, Germany and Spain can qualify without breaking sweat and countries like Andorra, San Marino, Lichtenstein etc. get thrashed regularly, helps no-one and just makes a mockery out of international football, we may as well allow, Gibraltar, IOM and the Vatican to enter.

  • Comment number 34.

    I would suggest that UEFA take up the following format for WC qualifying:

    The top 24 European teams (in the FIFA rankings) qualify automatically to the WC Qualifying groups which are split in to 3 groups of 8

    The remaining teams have to play each other in 6 groups of 5 - only 1 leg, therefore each team plays at home and away twice - and the top team from each group qualifies into the 3 WC qualifying groups

    Each WC qualifying group would therefore have 10 teams consisting of the strongest teams in Europe

    This would eliminate needless games that have poor attendances. It would make the WC qualifying groups much more competitive, which would a.) make it a far better spectacle than it currently is b.) give England more exposure to strong teams in a competitive arena that isn't quite the knockout of the WC itself therefore better preparation. And it would mean that friendlies would become more important as the teams below the 24 cut-off point would strive to get into the 24 and the teams already in it would strive to not fall below.

    It would mean 18 games over two years for a team like England, which is definitely do-able, it would be a much better spectacle for the fans and it would be better preparation for the teams...


  • Comment number 35.

    19. At 15:22 3rd Oct 2011, Tim Vickery - BBC Sport wrote:
    18 - any offence to Asian football unintended - I only wrote 'good chance', not 'probability.'

    On the minnow status of Ecuador and Venezuela.
    This is their record in Copa Americas up to and including 1995, the last time before the introduction of the marathon World cup format

    Ecuador - 11 wins, 17 draws, 64 defeats, 93 scored, 246 conceded
    Venezuela - 1 win, 6 draws, 26 defeats, 26 scored, 119 conceded.

    The suff of minnows within their continent.

    Maybe but still rubbish to compare them to tiny states in the Alps or the North Sea.

    If you put a group together of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Holland and Belgium, every qualifying tournament you would find that the Swiss, Austrians and Belgians would have similar records, yet they would also only be a couple of top players away from regularly getting amongst the bigger teams (as Belgium have in the past and the Swiss are doing now).

  • Comment number 36.

    I would like to see some of the smaller European natiions (eg: Andorra, San Marino, Moldova etc play in pre qualifying groups. This would even up the size of the European groups with say five in each group.

    Obviously having bigger groups might be more exciting but there is little room in the football calendar for it. Having six eight team groups would mean fourteen internationals in a two season qualifying period.

    That said. I make no apologies for once more suggestion that each season should have four international breaks with the scrapping of the friendly dates in August and February. International friendlies should be limited to the end of season period.

  • Comment number 37.

    Great blog Tim as always.

    I think the European Qualifiers would work well in the following format:

    Top 36 ranked nations go into 6 groups of 6

    The remaining teams then play in a 4 groups of 5/6 depending on if some lesser nations join the qualifying, and the top 3 teams join the main draw, for 6 groups of 9.

    Creating 16 qualifying games, to cope with the extra games reduce friendlies.

    Would certainly help the lesser nations by keeping them competitive in the pre-quals.

  • Comment number 38.

    Thanks for posting my question Tim!
    @ 27, thats the back 3 I was thinking of, Coloccini may lack some pace against top forwards, but surely with 5 in midfield Mascherano would protecting the back 3, and Coloccini would be less exposed, his distribution from the back is excellent and could really add some creative spark to the backline. And with someone like Gutierrez on the flank, playing the midfield/wing back role it could be really effective.

  • Comment number 39.

    Good blog Phil. As someone else has mentioned, I'm just curious as to the status of the Guyana and Suriname national teams. Surely they would be the real minnows of South America?

  • Comment number 40.

    You do one of the best blogs on here.

    Re the Coloccini question - and I don't have stats to back this up - but I'd hazard a guess that he actually gives away very few fouls in games. Either way, he was around the squad after joining NUFC and found himself being omitted after becoming a stand-out player, which is odd.

  • Comment number 41.

    In Europe we need to get rid of these matches between minnows and major teams. I think San Marino,Andorra,Scotland and the Faeroes should play a pre qualifying competition with only the winner, most likely Andorra, qualifying to compete against bigger teams.

  • Comment number 42.

    Good point you make stevieeng34 but did Scotland not nearly get points of Spain, Italy and beat France home and away recently? Were Wales not a Robert Earnshaw away from drawing at Wembley? Even countries like Montenegro(who Wales beat and England struggled),Armenia,Estonia, Bosnia, Israel have been doing well in qualifiers, this is akin to say Venezuela, Ecuador. I think its more the traditional 2/3rd best categories of countries in both South America, Europe and Africa are now competing at a higher level

  • Comment number 43.

    Can't wait for the weekend's games Tim, for me the South American qualifiers are easily the highlight of the international calendar.

    Hackerjack - I am imagining Tim is indeed for real, as there is absolutely nothing wrong with his opening statement. Minnow in this context means insignificant, so what's the problem?

    Population has nothing to do with ability at a specific sport. How are the Indian football side getting on these days? Nobody particularly cares, because their sport is cricket. Likewise, Venezuela prefer baseball.

    Aardvark - "good chance" means just that. It means you are assuming the best Asian teams don't have a "horror show in qualifying". That would be assumed in the expression made.

    Respect is due to Vickerinho, stop inventing ways to be offended.

  • Comment number 44.

    39. At 12:45 4th Oct 2011, Vespiquen wrote:
    Good blog Phil. As someone else has mentioned, I'm just curious as to the status of the Guyana and Suriname national teams. Surely they would be the real minnows of South America?
    Suriname and Guyana both play in the CONCACAF region (North America/Carribean)

    French Guiana is technically part of France.

  • Comment number 45.

    As an expat in Ecuador and a close follower of South American football, I love Vickerinho's blogs, and would like to make a couple of points.

    Venezuela and Ecuador are on very different parts of the upward curve and it is perhaps misleading to pigeon-hole them together. With two world cups under their belt (with impressive showings, beating Croatia, Poland, Costa Rica), Ecuador's elevation started back at the end of the last century whilst the current hype surrounding Venezuela stems from their surprise performance at this years Copa America. Ecuador narrowly missed out on 1998 qualification (beating Argentina on the way) and finished 3rd in the 2006 qualification (only behind Brazil and Argentina)

    A look at recent Ecuador squads throws up some quality, internationally renowned players with plenty of European and even Champions League experience:

    Antonio Valencia (Man Utd) Edison Mendez (PSV), Jefferson Montero (Villareal, Betis - keep an eye on this kid), Ulises de la Cruz (Villa, Reading), Chucho Benitez (Birmingham, Santos), Felipe Caicedo (Man City, Basel, Levante) and Cristan Noboa (Rubin Kazan) plus a host of continetnal stars such as Ivan Hurtado, Agustin Delgado, Joffre Guerron, Felix Borja, Carlos Tenorio, Giovanny Espinoza and Neicer Reasco

    Ecuador have certainly come a long way since the days when Alex Aguinaga and Ivan Kaviedes were their only exports. And with a seemingly endless conveyor belt of fresh talent from the Afro-Ecuadorian communties of Esmeraldas and Imbabura, the upward curve will continue.

    Also worth mentioning is the success experienced at club level. I thought Liga de Quito's triumph at the 2008 Copa Libertadores (an equivalent of Southampton winning the Chamipons League!) was a freak result, but they followed that up with incredible victories in the 2009 Recopa (supercup) and 2009 Copa Sudamericana to prove it was no flash in the pan.

  • Comment number 46.

    Perhaps this is what Africa needs as well, although I don't see how it would work out because there are so many countries with so many people. Maybe over here we need money and coaching because it really doesn't make sense to me how European national teams are better than African national teams but I've learnt that the real difference maker in football is decision making at which my continent's teams have struggled. Like I said maybe we more competitive games even though we've been getting better and better.

    AS far as South America goes, I'll followed a lot of your blogs Tim and have to say you've made sense of the evolution of football over there. I really couldn't understand why Brazil were no longer playing the kind of football they've become famous for but its clear now. All that having been said their qualifiers have really helped South American sides.

    The only country that really didn't make the magic expected of them was Argentina esp with attack they had. Uruguay was great even though Suarez can never go to Ghana now. Hopefully when the World Cup lands in Brazil South American side will show the world what they are really made of more than African countries when it was here.

  • Comment number 47.

    45 - maybe Ecuador's rise began with the bebirth of the Copa America, which was brought back in 1987 and held every 2 years (now changed to 4). As I mentioned above, 89 was the first sign of their breakthrough.

    46 - I've never been to Africa, and I'm a bit confused as to why the progress of the continent's national teams has not been quicker. Any further explanations?

  • Comment number 48.

    I gave the Copa America records pre-96 for Ecudor and Venezuela, and mentioned in the piece their scarcity of wins in qualifying up to that point.

    The full figues in World Cup qualifiers are as follows;
    Ecuador - first competed in 1960 for the 62 World Cup - record up to and including 94 qualifiers - 5 wins, 11 draws, 23 defeats, 34 scored, 71 conceded

    Venezuela - first competed in 65 for 66, didn't compete in 74 - record up to 93 - 2 wins, 3 draws, 31 defeats, 18 scored, 118 conceded.

    The truly remarkable aspect is the rate of progress - in 93 both played 8 qualifiers (which in itself was a step forward, it had usually been 4 per campaign),

    Of those 8, Ecuador won 1, drew 3 and lost 4
    Venezuela won 1 and lost the other 7 (scoring 4 goals in the campaign and conceding 34!)
    The only wins they managed were against each other.

  • Comment number 49.

    7.At 13:12 3rd Oct 2011, hackerjack wrote:
    Are you for real?

    Venzuela is a country of 30m people, Ecuador 15m. To even try top compare them to Lichtenstein (30k) and the Faores (50k) is ridiculous. They have never been minnows on that scale. If you try to do it on economics or on "football money" then it's even more ridiculous.


    Hackerjack, you have a point but by your logic India with a 1.2 billion population must be a footballing powerhouse the likes of which Uruguay or Holland could never hope to take a point from?

    As the Faroe Islands have proven (especially if you watched their recent 0-1 defeat to Italy, where they hit the post twice and dominated the game for large parts), a small population can be overcome to a significant degree. The Faroe Islands I feel are proof of Tim's point - small footballing nations improving radically through exposure to top sides. Europe's issue is that there's so many sides - one or one plus a play-off is the best hope you have in each group, whereas in S America a side like Ecuador can happily let Brazil & Argentina run away with the qualifiers and still know they have a great chance of getting through.

    The solution is for larger European groups, say 9 or 10 per group - but it creates too many matches for the leagues to cope with, so each side would only play each other once (as in the Six Nations rugby). Messy system though.

  • Comment number 50.

    @ 38.

    Yes, exactly. Di Maria and Jonas on either flank, with Mascherano with the defensive midfield slot, Cambiasso as back up, and the attacking central midfield slot taken up by Pastore, with perhaps Banega as back up, or Lucho Gonzalez. Messi as the trequartista behind a front two of Higuain/Lavezzi/Palacio/Aguero. Perfect.

    Whatever Sabella chooses to play, I just hope we don't persue with the likes of Zabaleta/Insua or whatever other ghastly ideas he has for a back 4. But even if he does go with that, I have faith in him. Even without Brazil it's going to be extremely competitive but I think with his application we must be coming top. It's about time.

  • Comment number 51.

    The WC is on home continent and that is enough incentive for both teams to make it. However judging Venezuela's performance in the Copa's, they are the most likely to make it than Ecuador.

  • Comment number 52.

    38 and 50,

    I know it's maybe a little bit radical, but what about Mascherano as the 3rd Centreback? He seems to have coped quite well there when Barcelona have tried him out in that position, in fact he performed admirably there during the Real - Barca matches at the start of the season.

  • Comment number 53.

    Excellent article Tim, as always

  • Comment number 54.

    @ 34

    I'm not sure that the FIFA rankings have enough credibility for what you suggest. I think nobody at FIFA has the bottle to come out with "we have a model to calculate the relative strengths of each team but some of the results are really stupid so it clearly doesn't work."

  • Comment number 55.

    There is an interesting parallel to the discussion regarding groups and qualifying in Europe in Rugby Union. The system in Europe clearly frustrates development in emerging rugby playing nations: imagine how much of a threat to the 6 nations teams Romania or Georgia would be if they played regular rugby against quality opposition - however, they seem to play against sides of similar quality and are prevented from competing against the best teams. Nothing should be changed in European qualification - these 'minnows' don't often win, but they do play very well and often cause difficulty for larger footballing nations. It's part of the romance and character of European football.

  • Comment number 56.

    West Ham attempted to sign Christian Benitez (chucho) but he failed an English Test which meant he could not have another visa

  • Comment number 57.

    I know this article is not about football played in the altitude, but you slightly touched the subject so I wanted to write about this:
    Ecuador's poor statistics in the Copa America and World Cup qualifiers that you show in the comments are interesting. So, why do you say that the altitude of La Paz and Quito is a problem for the other teams? Having that "mountain fortress" should have brought Ecuador and Bolivia better results in all these years. In contrast to your 6-1 example, I can give you three:
    Copa America final 1997 in La Paz: Brasil 3 Bolivia 1 (Brasil played only three days before the semifinal in Santa Cruz at only 416 m of altitude)
    Qualifier to WC 2002 in La Paz: Bolivia 3 Argentina 3 (Argentina was losing 3-1 until the 81' minute)
    Qualifier to WC 2002 in Quito: Ecuador 0 Argentina 2

    Another nice statistic comes from the Copa Libertadores de America a tournament that is played since 1960. In the country list of winners Ecuador appears only once (LDU Quito won it in 2008), a Bolivian team has never won the Copa.

    I'm not saying that it is not difficult to play in the altitude. But it is a problem, that has a solution. We are talking about professional athletes! (On the other hand, nobody has never questioned the hot weather and humidity we have to play when our players go to Brazil). So, I think that when Brazilians or Argentinians complain about the altitude it is only an excuse because they cannot accept that they have not been well prepared for the situation and also, like you say, that the so called "small" countries have progressed.


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