The way in which England and Belgium have demolished their opponents at World Cup 2018, and that without ever getting anywhere near top gear, must surely set alarm bells ringing within FIFA as we head towards the horrifyingly bloated looking 48 team World Cup in 2026. The US, Mexico and Canada are set to be the hosts for an opening fortnight of utterly pointless football as the chaff is brutally separated from the wheat.
World Cup 2018 Diary: Colombia On Fire, England Hit Panama For Six
Let us be charitable and argue that FIFA’s intentions are benign, that they want to spread the game around the world and raise the standards amid less traditional footballing countries. I think most of us would argue that that is a good thing. But parachuting minnow nations into the World Cup by opening up more starting berths for the smaller confederations doesn’t really seem to be working does it?
Are Saudi Arabia looking any closer to being real competitors on the world stage? Or Tunisia? Or are they simply going to compete as also fans, making up the numbers? Even if they do get to be at the party, it can’t be a lot of fun if you just get beaten up by the bigger kids all the time can it?
You could argue a 32 team World Cup is already too big, just as the 24 team Euros were two years ago. 48 is certainly a step too far and one that will do no good for anyone but the financiers with noses in the trough. This World Cup has made it readily apparent that if we do actually care about bringing on these nations in emerging football territories, we need to find a better way of doing that than kicking the crap out of them every four years and hoping that they’ll be better next time.
The problem is that if you are say the Saudis, you only get exposed to a competitive meeting with a European or South American superpower every four years if you’re lucky. How are you supposed to develop that way, when you are little more than golden boot fodder? You wouldn’t let a boxer fight in local amateur bouts for four years before chucking him in front of Anthony Joshua would you?
Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learnt from the likes of cricket where there are Test playing nations and then another level of associate nations, trying to prove their worth before they are given the chance to compete higher up. Perhaps an associate World Cup held at the same time as a 16 team proper competition might be a method of bridging the gap.
Better yet, why not dispense with the nonsense of qualification by confederation and simply have World qualification groups? The global nature of the game and the ease of world travel these days makes it no more complex than the current set up – after all, so many players already play club football in one confederation and international football in another.
While they might not qualify first time out of the box, don’t you think Panama would benefit more from playing both home and away against Argentina, Australia, Poland, Ivory Coast, Ireland and Japan than qualifying for the World Cup once in a while and getting smashed like rabbits in the headlights by the kind of quality opposition they barely ever see? Surely that is a better developmental model?
England’s thrashing of Panama, following on from Belgium’s similarly ruthless demolition of Tunisia leaves both sides supremely well placed as we finally approach the business end of the competition. Quite how the two will approach their meeting remains to be seen though as noted yesterday, finishing second in the group looks likely to be the bigger prize when you look at the route to the last four.
That said, both will feel confident against all comers having filled their boots so easily so far, though Gareth Southgate was right to play down the significance of the size of the win against such poor opponents. Nonetheless, Harry Kane is as good as any striker in the competition and with him in such prime form now, five goals already to his name, that alone could take the England team a very long way.
With both Senegal and Japan having collected three points in their openers, a draw when they met this afternoon was always on the cards. That was how it ended but the way they got there was a little less predictable, the two sides going hammer and tongs at it over the 90 minutes.
Senegal were the quicker starters, taking advantage of a dreadful error by Eiji Kawashima in the Japanese goal, a weak parry straight onto the advancing Sadie Mane giving the Senegalese the lead. They passed up a string of opportunities to add to it and paid the price when Takeshita Inui levelled things up with an assured finish after great work by Nagatomo.
From there, Japan were the better side against a Senegal who were “frankly not very good” according to coach Alou Cisse. In spite of that, they regained the lead when Moussa Wague charged in at the far post to drive in emphatically but Japan kept their heads and got the draw they deserved when the apparently ageless Keisuke Honda capitalised on another dreadful bit of goalkeeping, this time by Senegal’s Khadim N’Diaye. That leaves both on four points and with one foot in the last 16.
Facing Belgium or England assuming these two do get through is likely to be a thankless task but such is the energy and enthusiasm both sides have brought to the tournament, an upset or so in their games would be pretty popular with neutrals.
Colombia are not out of it by any means though after a sparkling display that simply shrugged Poland aside. James and Juan Cuadrado were on fire, Radamel Falcao looks sharp in front of goal and that final game with Senegal should be an absolute cracker. Had they not been reduced to ten men in the opening minutes of that first game with Japan, the likelihood is that Colombia would already be through. But they have rescued the situation to some degree and they now have the momentum with them. Senegal will have to work to do to deny them in that decider.