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Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

FIFA's manipulation of playoff draw farcical


LONDON — Just in case you had forgotten, FIFA's motto is Fair Play.

Christopher Davies

A few weeks before the World Cup playoff draw in October FIFA decided to change the procedure. Having initially ruled the draw would be open and having told national associations this, FIFA moved the goalposts at the 11th hour and decided it would be seeded.

This was designed to help bigger countries such as France, which eventually reached South Africa thanks to Thierry Henry's helping hand against the Republic of Ireland.

Because it is FIFA, it did not explain its change to the playoff draw because it doesn't have to.

Such was the world outcry that an act of cheating had led to France's crucial goal in Paris, FIFA subsequently changed the system to determine the eight top seeds for the World Cup draw.

Of course, it denies this but its reasoning is hard to swallow.

In the past, the seedings have been determined by a mixture of performances in the previous two World Cups and current world rankings, but FIFA ditched this to base the 2010 seedings just on its October world rankings. That would have punished France and Les Bleus would not be in Pot A. Holland would have been seeded, France not.

Had FIFA stuck to its more sensible past method, France, beaten finalists three years ago, would have been a top seed instead of the Dutch.

FIFA's explanation — you haven't forgotten their motto, have you? — was that "this time the feeling was the October rankings most closely represented the best teams in the tournament."

Balderdash.

It is obvious FIFA did not want cheats to prosper and came up with a way of ensuring France would be punished. It was an insult to everyone's intelligence to deny this.

To use world rankings for World Cup seeds is ludicrous. The FIFA argument about it "closest represented the best teams" doesn't stand up because their rankings, updated every month, include countless friendlies for all countries dating back four years.

Why should friendlies have a significant bearing on World Cup seedings?

The FIFA rankings taken into consideration for the seedings go back four years. In that period Argentina has played 23 friendlies, Brazil 26, England 20, Germany 24, Holland 21, Italy 18 and Spain 19.

As host South Africa was always going to be seeded so its results are irrelevant.

While friendly internationals carry fewer ranking points than competitive games, they are still a factor, but why on earth should 153 friendlies be relevant to a World Cup seeding?

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said: "We made the decision last month that the October rankings would be used because they were fairer — countries who had been involved in the playoffs would have had an unfair advantages because they would have played more games and that affects their rankings.

"Using October rather than November as the cut off as all the European teams had played the same number of games. This is not a case of wanting Holland to be seeded in France, just that the feeling was the October seedings represented the best teams."

More balderdash.

Valcke should check the European qualifying groups.

Eight comprised six teams and one — Holland's — had five, so FIFA's assertion that "all the European teams had played the same number of games" doesn't add up.

By coincidence, had the November rankings been used France not Holland would have been seeded.

How can one extra month make any significant difference over a four-year period, apart from making sure France wasn't seeded?

And isn't the idea of the rankings to determine the best teams on a running basis?

Why wasn't that the case for the draw for Germany 2006 or Japan/South Korea in 2002?

Why didn't the November rankings most closely represent the best teams in the tournament?

Why October?

FIFA — Fair Play — and the cow jumped over the moon.

* * * * *

ARSENAL HAS played the two Premier League powerhouses Chelsea and Manchester United seven times in 2009, losing six and drawing the other, a goalless draw of little value given that it effectively handed United its third consecutive English title at Old Trafford last May.

Other than that, Arsenal has been trounced twice at home by Chelsea and beaten at Wembley in the F.A. Cup semifinal. It has also been beaten at home and away in the Champions League semifinal by United and again at Old Trafford in the league last August.

When Arsenal come up against English football's heavyweights, it is knocked out.

Arsene Wenger's team remains true to its manager's values and plays passing football of the highest order. On Wednesday, Wenger's young Gunners were beaten by Manchester City's strongest XI in the League Cup quarterfinals and their hopes of winning the title are mathematical rather than realistic.

It is, at best, a poor third to Chelsea and United, with little sign of the gap being closed.

In his 13 years in charge Wenger has built several outstanding teams, but the success of the first nine years has stopped.

It is impossible to think of anyone who could do a better job at Arsenal than Wenger, but the promise of potential and youth are becoming harder for supporters to accept.

Size does matter, and until Wenger beefs up his team, it will remain Premier League bridesmaids.



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