A question that needs a quick response. What is the bigger surprise – that Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt and South Africa have not made it to the 2012 African Cup of Nations or that Mali, Guinea, Libya, and Niger have?
My guess is that it is the former rather than the latter. We tend to consider the failure of bigger names a greater shock than success of teams that we expect less from.
If the results in African Cup of Nations had been replicated in Euro 2012 it would have been the equivalent of something like Germany, Italy, Netherlands and England failing to make the finals.
We can only guess at the fall out if that had happened.
As it is Euro 2012 will wrap up on Tuesday and although there are automatic and play off spots that have still to be decided there will not be the drama that we have seen played out in Africa.
Holders Spain, ’08 runners up Germany, Italy, Netherlands and England have all guaranteed a spot at the finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer. A run down of the other countries that carry some pedigree over the last decade or so of major tournaments includes:
. Portugal hold a head-to-head edge over Denmark and unless they lose in Copenhagen and Norway fills the Cyprus net the worst looks to be another crack through the play offs
. Greece has at least a play-off place guaranteed and with a two point lead on Croatia they should go through as group winners
. Sweden could yet qualify as best second place finishers
. France only needs to draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina to win group D and at worst they would face a play off
. Serbia are in a wee bit of a trouble but they are still are in control of their own destiny – a win away to Slovenia will do the job.
. A draw at home for Russia against Andorra should not be possible without breaking into sweat
The play-offs will generate a bit of excitement but it has been a very lacklustre qualifying campaign for Europe’s major international tournament.
What’s more if truth be known the play-offs is just another way to give the larger more powerful countries another opportunity to make it should they screw up the group stage.
The bad news is in four years time it will only get worse. Qualifying for France will involve 54 countries and 23 will join France as host. That is over 40% of the entries make it to the final.
Take all the group winners from 2012 qualifying, add all the runners-up, plus Ukraine and Poland and there would still be another 4 spots for third place finishers. Isn’t that an exciting thought.
The chances of getting the types of shocks we saw in African Cup of Nations drops to close to zero.
Africa had 44 countries in the final qualifying stage and 14 places were made up for grabs – the two others going to the joint host nations of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. That gives a success rate of around 36% compared to the UEFA mark of 26% for 2012 and the aforementioned rate of 40% for 2016.
Africa managed to generate more excitement than UEFA even though the qualification rate for 2012 is higher.
But there is a way to generate more excitement and surprises even with an expansion to 24 teams. The way to do it – it really is quite simple.
Follow the African system and go for smaller groups.
In a similar way to World Cup qualifying Africa has opted for more but smaller groups. Smaller groups means that the intensity of each game increases because we know that the shorter the campaign the greater the chance of success.
UEFA could easily do the same thing. Next time around take the ten lowest ranked countries and conduct a draw that offers the five winners of a home and home series a place in the full draw.
That would then give us 48 countries that could be drawn into 12 groups of 4. Group winners would all qualify as would each of the group runner-up – well all except the two poorest.
They would have to play off against each other to decide the final spot.
Although such a system may not create the sort of results we have seen in Africa it at least offers the chance of a shot in the arm to a qualifying system that it tantamount to legalized rigging.
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