Outside of tournaments, international football is dull.
Whilst I can sit and watch the England rugby team in an autumn international and I will be glued to the TV for 5 days of a test match, I just can not get up for England games – whether a competitive qualifier or friendly.
Part of the reason sport is so great is due to the “unknown”. The fact that on any given day, a lesser team might beat a bigger one. It is why the FA Cup is such a great tournament.
Knock-Out, one legged games lead to Wrexham beating Arsenal, Chelsea losing to Bradford and Liverpool losing to Oldham Athletic.
Two-legged ties reduce the unknown as often the stronger team will come through in the second leg – like we saw in the Europa Conference with Tottenham coming back to beat Paços de Ferreira in the second leg.
Group stages are even worse – whether in club or international football.
They are designed to ensure the best teams go through even if they “have a bad day”. They completely take out the unknown and it leads to the same old teams qualifying for the knock out stages – or major international tournaments – time and again.
Qualifying becomes very predictable – and even more so since the authorities expanded the teams that can qualify.
It will take a huge drop in form for the likes of England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, etc to fail to qualify.
Yes, for those “mid” teams there is plenty of excitement. There is a huge bunch of teams that are of similar level chasing that 2nd place. But for the top nations, you just know that they will qualify even if they suffer a couple of poor results.
This leads to boring, predictable football with no edge.
The opposite to the “top teams” is those at the bottom.
San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, etc.
These teams will never qualify for a major tournament. They will be lucky to ever get a win in qualifying. And will celebrate scoring a goal like they have won the World Cup.
Them being in the qualifying stages of major international tournaments benefits no one.
They all sit with 11 men behind the ball, with the sole aim of the game to be to concede as few goals as possible.
The argument is that by having these teams play “the bigger boys” it will improve their standard. But can this really happen when they are all trying to not lose by a big scoreline rather than try and win?
Look at the 6 Nations.
Italy have been in the tournament for 22 years. They have finished with the wooden spoon 16 teams. They have won just 12 out of 110 games.
They have not improved as a nation despite playing regular against better nations.
Now take that to football.
San Marino have attempted to qualify for 15 international tournaments.
They have failed to qualify for any of them. Failed to even win a competitive match. Have scored just 19 goals conceding 650.
What benefit is there for either San Marino or the wider football community them being in qualifiers?
Would not it not be better for these teams to have a pre-qualification tournament?
You could take the 10 worst teams in Europe (currently Gibraltar, San Marino, Kosovo, Andorra, Malta, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands) and have them play in two group stages alongside the World Cup qualifiers.
The top 2 of each group qualify for the next European Champions qualifiers, and the 4 teams with the worst record from these World Cup qualifiers get “relegated”.
This would revolutionise the way these teams play as they would have something to play for, to win. A reason to attack.
It would also make group stages for the international tournaments more interesting as those teams are the bottom will be fighting to not finish with the worst record.
It will change the narrative from “try to concede as few as possible” to actually trying to score goals and win games.
At the top end it would also mean more competitive games for the bigger sides, and less predictable snore-fests like England v Andorra.