I consider myself a football fan who, more often than not, looks on the bright side, but there are a few little things in the game that really grind my gears. Managers who wear tracksuits is one. Unless you’re planning a 20 minutes cameo on the pitch, what’s wrong with looking smart and wearing a shirt and tie? Players who sulk – you’re being paid to play a game, remember that.
But those two minor gripes don’t bug me as much as the big one; the seeding of teams in international tournaments. I know they do it to keep interest up, and thus get more money for television rights, in certain countries, and to give the best teams the best chance to create the showcase final that the powers that be are craving. But, in my opinion, doesn’t it just serve as a kick in the teeth to the ‘lesser’ nations who have had to defy expectations simply to qualify?
Let’s take our friends the Republic of Ireland as an example. They were in pot three when the qualifying groups were drawn, so the logic says that the teams from pots one and two should qualify, then Ireland have done well just to reach the play-off stage. They then swept aside Estonia (who themselves reached the play-offs from pot five) over two legs, and what’s their reward? Giovanni Trapattoni’s men will be drawn last and put into a group that they are expected to finish last in. All the teams have done well to qualify, so why not draw groups on a level playing field?
As mentioned, seeds are used to give the highest ranked teams the best chance of progressing into the knock-out rounds, but if they’re the best teams, why do they need help in winning the tournament? If the draw was seedless and Spain were put in a group with the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, then I’d still fancy that Spain would progress and they’d have to have beaten the best to get there. If Italy were to win that group then the same could be said about them, and they would then have a great chance of winning the tournament.
I would argue that the seeding for Euro 2012 is a bit of a farce anyway. Having to place the hosts in pot one to maintain local interest for as long as possible means that Poland and Ukraine will be treated as the best teams in the tournament. If seeding has to happen, at least do it properly.
I think that my point is more stark in World Cup tournaments where qualifying nations are more varied in their World Ranking. Did North Korea ever have much of a chance qualifying from a group containing Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast? In truth they’d probably have struggled to qualify from any group, but what’s wrong with giving them more of a chance, and in the process, improving the profile of football in that part of the world?
The abolishment of seeding would see more exciting, higher profile group games (especially in the qualifying stages), arguably more interest from the rest of the world when lower ranked teams reach the knock-out stages and less formality with the finalists.
Much like the FA Cup, the cream would probably rise to the top anyway, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but how about leaving groups to chance and let the teams fight it out between themselves?
Editor’s note: The draw for Euro 2012 will be shown live on ESPN3.com at Noon ET on Friday, December 2.