Monday, 6 June 2016

International minnows and their place in the game

The beers are on ice. The wall chart is hung proudly, pen at the ready. The patriotic flags and bunting line the street. The Euros are coming. Optimism fills the air, this could be England's year. In reality we'll crash out in the knock outs again, but hey-ho.
On June 10th the tournament begins, showcasing the 24 best teams Europe has to offer, all in with a shot of lifting the prestigious trophy at the beginning of July. However, spare a thought for those who didn't make the cut; Netherlands - very much fancied in qualification - failed to qualify, less shockingly, the likes of San Marino, Andorra and a relatively new addition to the UEFA family - Gibraltar, failed to make it to France - new campaign, same outcome - thrashing after thrashing, demoralised by the powerhouses of the international scene. Seeing these results year after year makes you wonder, do these nations justify being featured on the international scene?
As a non-league football fan, of course if low and behold the humble Aylesbury FC reached the first round of the FA Cup and took on a Goliath of the football league it would be amazing for the fans and the club, and has the ability for momentum to be created for the rest of the domestic season, and most likely be a relatively competitive game - due to the grandeur of the occasion. However, the novelty has definitely worn off for the minnows of the international game, with pretty much any opposition posing a huge threat to the regularly exposed frailties of said national teams.

Gibraltar celebrate their first competitive goal against Scotland
Historically, the likes of Andorra and San Marino have always been renowned as the 'whipping boys' of groups, with squads made up of semi-professional players with the stereotypical jobs of builder and bin-man often amongst their ranks, yes, of course the players themselves must embrace the opportunities to take on their idols, and have the honour of representing their country, but in most cases the demoralisation of a crushing defeat is inevitable - and the statistics definitely don't lie, with Andorra and San Marino both conceding 36 goals in qualifying respectively, whilst Gibraltar, on their maiden venture in international qualification shipped 56 goals in 10 games (but I suppose what do you expect with a population of 30,000 and very little financial backing or resources). Yes, playing adorning your nations crest upon your chest must be a terrific feeling, but if you're going out expecting to be beaten by 4,5, 6 or more goals, is it really worth it? Yes, it's great for the fans - who doesn't love a goal, but for both the team giving the brutal thrashings and the team on the end of them, are international qualifiers becoming completely pointless with the vastly increasing chasm of quality ever growing? Managers, ex-pros and journalists alike seem to think so.
This issue isn't purely a European one, prior to the 2006 World Cup, Australia (now part of the Asian confederation), competed in the Oceania confederation - with Australia and New Zealand being the only nations offering any real footballing impetus, this was reflected by the infamous scoreline of 31-0, against American Samoa. Following what can only be described as a monumental trouncing, the OFC restructured their qualification system to mean that lesser nations still had the opportunities to compete and qualify for major tournaments, but not left red-faced by the likes of Australia on the majority of match days.
The question is; should this same system be implemented in Europe?
Personally, I don't see why it shouldn't. It has proven to be affective in all other confederations, with all using it bar South America - but with only 10 nations competing, it would be pretty unnecessary to implement it anyway. If a staggered qualification system was to be introduced, smaller nations would potentially become more competitive in the long run, as they have the opportunity to gain confidence, see more investment, and more importantly - win games, unlike in the current system.
Alternatively, the system could be altogether be restructured to omit those nations with the lowest UEFA co-efficients, and instead of the European championship qualifiers nations could participate in a different cup, again allowing the opportunity for competitive matches and a chance of silverware - but a huge reduction in ridiculous score lines.
However, on the other hand, in omitting nations, progress in the international football set up in these nations may not necessarily be made, as although games are likely to become much more competitive, the challenge of an experienced regimented international side against a said minnow, could be much more beneficial in developing a side, than if they were playing teams of their own standing. This is reinforced by the fact that although many critics believe European international football is a dying breed, and small nations are ruining the game, through adversity of small player pools, and lack of physical and financial resources, the underdogs of Europe are actually improving at a much quicker rate than the likes of England. Yes, the minnows aren't winning championships, but they're putting in better performances, and conceding far fewer goals (see graphic below).

Source: The Guardian (2014)

Furthermore, if the structure did change, some of the magical fairytale moments in European football history wouldn't have even existed - take Davide Gualtieri's goal for San Marino against England after 8 seconds as a prime example - still the fastest goal in World Cup qualification history - in any continent.

Davide Gualieri celebrates his goal against England in 1993
Fans and the players alike live for these kind of moments, they only come once in a blue moon. Yes, many will argue there is no place for these nations in football - after all in other sports not all nations get invited. But with time, teams wills improve, and minnows become bigger fish. As a man who loves the sport, I believe everyone has a right to inclusion. So stop critiquing, and just enjoy the goals.

Follow me on Twitter: @DLster

No comments:

Post a Comment