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WEEKLY WHINE

We’ll tell you how to kick off

The qualifying draw for the 2014 Men’s World Cup was held on Saturday, and while the process generally makes a bit more sense than the 2010 process, there is still a lot of work to be done. There are two major problems with the current system: some confederations have to start way too early, and most confederations are not making optimal use of the limited number of qualifying dates.

Another issue is that the confederations are allocated their qualifying slots first, and then they select a qualifying format to yield that number of teams, even if said format would be horribly inefficient. [We’re looking at you, CONCACAF.] By making slight tweaks to the number of slots, primarily done through the use of increased interconfederation playoffs, we should be able to achieve more enjoyment and greater efficiency.

So, with all this in mind, we came up with the set of guiding principles shown below, and we gave them to the GoobNet Special Projects Enhancement and Enforcement Division [SPEED]. They have evaluated the existing qualifying formats and have made a number of changes that are to take effect immediately. The qualifying matches that have already taken place are to be annulled, even that awesome first round series between Laos and Cambodia.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

  1. The whole point of this exercise is to make sure that no qualifiers have to be played until 2012.
  2. All groups and pairings must be played in home and away [double round robin] format.
  3. All matches should be played on FIFA full international dates.
  4. FIFA friendly international dates should be used only as a last resort.
  5. Two legged serieses are the most efficient way to narrow the field quickly.
  6. However, each confederation should have at least one group phase.

PROPOSED PLACES

ConfederationEntrantsCurrent PlacesProposed Places
QualifyPlayoffQualifyPlayoff
Host: Brazil11010
UEFA5313099
CAF525044
AFC434133
CONMEBOL94132
CONCACAF353122
OFC1101N/AN/A

FIFA INTERNATIONAL MATCH CALENDAR

  • WED 10 AUG 2011 [friendly]
  • FRI 02 SEP 2011
  • TUE 06 SEP 2011
  • FRI 07 OCT 2011
  • TUE 11 OCT 2011
  • FRI 11 NOV 2011
  • TUE 15 NOV 2011
  • WED 29 FEB 2012 [friendly]
  • FRI 01 JUN 2012
  • TUE 05 JUN 2012
  • FRI 08 JUN 2012
  • TUE 12 JUN 2012
  • WED 15 AUG 2012 [friendly]
  • FRI 07 SEP 2012
  • TUE 11 SEP 2012
  • FRI 12 OCT 2012
  • TUE 16 OCT 2012
  • WED 14 NOV 2012 [friendly]
  • WED 06 FEB 2013 [friendly]
  • FRI 22 MAR 2013
  • TUE 26 MAR 2013
  • TUE 04 JUN 2013 [friendly]
  • FRI 07 JUN 2013
  • TUE 11 JUN 2013
  • FRI 14 JUN 2013
  • TUE 18 JUN 2013
  • WED 14 AUG 2013 [friendly]
  • FRI 06 SEP 2013
  • TUE 10 SEP 2013
  • FRI 11 OCT 2013
  • TUE 15 OCT 2013
  • FRI 15 NOV 2013
  • TUE 19 NOV 2013

UEFA

Union of European Football Associations
Teams entered: 53
Current places: 13

Current format: One group phase with nine groups. Eight of the groups have six teams, the other five. The winner of each group qualifies directly, and the top eight second placed teams play off in pairs for the remaining four places. Teams schedule their own group matches by mutual consent, provided that all matches are played between WED 15 AUG 2012 and TUE 15 OCT 2013.

Current match dates required: 12

Discussion on current format and places: UEFA’s qualifying format has become the standard by which all other qualifying formats are judged. But this is a bit unfair, as UEFA only needs to narrow the field by a factor of about four. If other confederations had more places, they could have formats like this too. Anyway, this is a good format because it gives the opportunity for more than one team from each group to qualify, so that two good teams can be drawn together without them having to fight to the pain. But it does seem somewhat silly to eliminate the last second placed team and to have the others play off against one another. Why not have all nine second placed teams enter playoffs, and create nine other playoff slots from other confederations for them to compete against?

Proposed places: 9 automatic, 9 playoff

Proposed format: The group phase proceeds exactly as before, with the exception that all nine second placed teams advance to the playoffs. These nine playoff serieses are against teams from other confederations [see below].

Proposed match dates required: 10 [plus two for the playoffs]

Proposed schedule: No change. Teams schedule their own group matches by mutual consent, provided that all matches are played on one of the 14 full international dates between FRI 07 SEP 2012 and TUE 15 OCT 2013. The playoffs occur on the NOV 2013 international dates.

CAF

Confédération Africaine de Football
Teams entered: 52
Current places: 5

Current format: CAF will hold one preliminary elimination round with the 24 lowest ranked teams. Then there is a group phase, from which the ten group winners advance to final playoff serieses to determine the five who qualify.

Discussion on current format and places: Remember a few paragraphs ago when we said that we like UEFA’s format because multiple teams advance from each group? Well, CAF have fallen into that trap. Only the group winners advance, but they then have to battle each other to qualify. A bit cutthroat, isn’t it?

Proposed places: 4 automatic, 4 playoff

Proposed format: We start with a preliminary elimination round involving the last eight teams. The four winners join the other 44 teams in a semifinal round with twelve groups of four. The top two teams in each group advance to the final round, another group phase with four groups of six teams. The winners in each group qualify, and the second placed teams reach the playoffs.

Proposed match dates required: 18 [plus two for the playoffs]

Proposed schedule: The elimination round is played on FRI 01 JUN 2012 and TUE 05 JUN 2012. The semifinal round is played on the other two international dates in JUN 2012, and the four in SEP-OCT 2012. The final round is played on the ten international dates of MAR-OCT 2013. Alternatively, because it may be difficult for the winning teams to organise travel on short notice, the semifinal round may use the AUG 2012 and NOV 2012 friendly dates instead of the JUN 2012 dates.

AFC

Asian Football Confederation
Teams entered: 43
Current places:

Current format: In the AFC, two elimination rounds have already been played to cut the field to 20 teams. Then two group phases are played. In the last one, the top two teams from the two groups qualify. The third placed teams play off against each other, with the winner meeting CONMEBOL’s fifth team.

Discussion on current format and places: This is a decent format; it just doesn’t fit into the temporal constraints, which is why the eliminations rounds were played so early. The AFC continually uses five team groups, inefficient because one team has a bye every match day. If they used six team groups, there would be twelve teams in the second group phase. That would mean they would need six groups in the first, and because they would then be narrowing the field from 43 teams to 24, only one elimination round would be needed.

Proposed places: 3 automatic, 3 playoff

Proposed format: The AFC and OFC qualifiers are folded into one giant AOFC qualifying tournament with 54 teams. First, there is an elimination round with the last 36 teams. Teams are paired regionally where possible, so that OFC teams play off against one another, Southeast Asian teams against one another, and so on. The 18 winners join the 18 byed teams in the semifinal round, with nine groups of four teams each. The top two teams in each group move on to the final round. Here, there are three groups of six teams: first placed teams qualify, and second placed teams reach the playoffs.

Proposed match dates required: 18 [plus two for the playoffs]

Proposed schedule: Same as for CAF above. Again, the friendly dates may be used to ease travel arrangements.

CONMEBOL

Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol
Teams entered: 9 [not including Brazil, who qualify automatically]
Current places: 4½ [not including Brazil]

Current format: All nine teams play in a single group, with the top four teams qualifying automatically and the fifth placed team playing off against the AFC playoff survivor.

Discussion on current format and places: Now that FIFA have finally increased the number of international match dates, this format actually makes sense.

Proposed places: 3 automatic, 2 playoff

Proposed format: Same as before, except that the fourth placed team also has to play off.

Proposed match dates required: 18 [plus two for the playoffs]

Proposed schedule: The group phase is played on the eighteen international dates from JUN 2012 to OCT 2013.

CONCACAF

Confederation of North/​Central American and Caribbean Association Football
Teams entered: 35
Current places:

Current format: CONCACAF has already staged its preliminary round, in which five winners advanced to a first group phase. Here, six group winners will be determined for entry into the semifinal round, a second group phase into which six teams have already earned byes. Six teams advance from here to the final round, a single group that decides three automatic places and a playoff place.

Discussion on current format and places: CONCACAF had a good format for 2002 and 2006 but has decided to change it to give lower ranked teams more matches against each other. This is a decent idea, but it introduces massive inefficiencies. The point of the Men’s World Cup qualifying tournament is to decide who qualifies for the Men’s World Cup; since CONCACAF still stages the Gold Cup every two years, lower ranked teams have ample opportunity to compete in its qualifiers.

Proposed places: 2 automatic, 2 playoff

Proposed format: An initial elimination phase involves the last 22 teams. The 11 winners join 13 teams byed into the semifinal round. Here, there will be six groups of four teams. Two teams from each group move on to the final round, with two groups of six teams each. The first placed teams qualify, and the second placed teams reach the playoffs.

Proposed match dates required: 18 [plus two for the playoffs]

Proposed schedule: Same as for CAF and the AFC above, still with potential use of the friendly dates.

OFC

Oceania Football Confederation
Teams entered: 11
Current places: ½

Current format: The OFC was originally intending to use the men’s football tournament at this year’s Pacific Games as the first round. But Guam, an AFC member, wanted to participate, and it would have made the whole thing too confusing. So now the OFC will have a preliminary round involving the last four teams in a group. The winner will reach the eight team 2012 OFC Nations Cup tournament. The four semifinalists advance to another group phase, to be held after the Nations Cup completes. The winner proceeds to a playoff against CONCACAF’s fourth team.

Discussion on current format and places: The OFC qualifiers are always tricky, as teams are forced to invest heavily in travel to other far flung islands for a tournament that New Zealand advances from anyway, so what was the point?

Proposed format: We propose to combine the AFC and OFC qualifiers into one tournament; see the AFC section above. This gives the OFC teams an opportunity to play against opponents from another confederation and hopefully learn from the experience. Moreover, it means that New Zealand will have the opportunity to qualify directly from a group rather than being forced into a playoff.

PLAYOFFS

The current system has a total of eleven playoff serieses played at the same time: the AFC/​CONMEBOL and CONCACAF/​OFC serieses, four UEFA serieses, and five CAF serieses.

Under our proposed scheme, the expanded interconfederation playoffs involve a total of twenty teams. The ten playoff winners join the other 21 qualified teams. No playoff series may contain two teams from the same confederation.

PROPOSED QUALIFYING CALENDAR

  • FRI 01 JUN 2012
    • CAF preliminary round, first leg
    • AFC/​OFC preliminary round, first leg
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 1
    • CONCACAF preliminary round, first leg
  • TUE 05 JUN 2012
    • CAF preliminary round, second leg
    • AFC/​OFC preliminary round, second leg
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 2
    • CONCACAF preliminary round, second leg
  • FRI 08 JUN 2012
    • CAF semifinal round, match date 1
    • AFC/​OFC semifinal round, match date 1
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 3
    • CONCACAF semifinal round, match date 1
  • TUE 12 JUN 2012
    • CAF semifinal round, match date 2
    • AFC/​OFC semifinal round, match date 2
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 4
    • CONCACAF semifinal round, match date 2
  • FRI 07 SEP 2012
    • UEFA group phase, match date 1
    • CAF semifinal round, match date 3
    • AFC/​OFC semifinal round, match date 3
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 5
    • CONCACAF semifinal round, match date 3
  • TUE 11 SEP 2012
    • UEFA group phase, match date 2
    • CAF semifinal round, match date 4
    • AFC/​OFC semifinal round, match date 4
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 6
    • CONCACAF semifinal round, match date 4
  • FRI 12 OCT 2012
    • UEFA group phase, match date 3
    • CAF semifinal round, match date 5
    • AFC/​OFC semifinal round, match date 5
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 7
    • CONCACAF semifinal round, match date 5
  • TUE 16 OCT 2012
    • UEFA group phase, match date 4
    • CAF semifinal round, match date 6
    • AFC/​OFC semifinal round, match date 6
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 8
    • CONCACAF semifinal round, match date 6
  • FRI 22 MAR 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 5
    • CAF final round, match date 1
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 1
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 9
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 1
  • TUE 26 MAR 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 6
    • CAF final round, match date 2
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 2
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 10
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 2
  • FRI 07 JUN 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 7
    • CAF final round, match date 3
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 3
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 11
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 3
  • TUE 11 JUN 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 8
    • CAF final round, match date 4
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 4
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 12
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 4
  • FRI 14 JUN 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 9
    • CAF final round, match date 5
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 5
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 13
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 5
  • TUE 18 JUN 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 10
    • CAF final round, match date 6
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 6
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 14
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 6
  • FRI 06 SEP 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 11
    • CAF final round, match date 7
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 7
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 15
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 7
  • TUE 10 SEP 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 12
    • CAF final round, match date 8
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 8
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 16
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 8
  • FRI 11 OCT 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 13
    • CAF final round, match date 9
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 9
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 17
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 9
  • TUE 15 OCT 2013
    • UEFA group phase, match date 14
    • CAF final round, match date 10
    • AFC/​OFC final round, match date 10
    • CONMEBOL group phase, match date 18
    • CONCACAF final round, match date 10
  • FRI 15 NOV 2013
    • Interconfederation playoffs, first leg
  • TUE 19 NOV 2013
    • Interconfederation playoffs, second leg

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