As the main football leagues in Europe have a free weekend with international football taking centre stage, World Cup qualification suddenly becomes thrust into the spotlight. For those countries involved in the UEFA procedure, it is a fairly routine method with nine group winners and the victors of four play-off matches between the eight best second placed teams gaining entry to the 2014 tournament. In other parts of the world, the road to Brazil is sometimes more difficult and at times quite bizarre.
In South America (CONMEBOL), as Brazil qualify as the host country, nine national teams compete in a league for four automatic berths with the fifth placed team needing to play a team from another confederation in a play-off match.
Uruguay were the unfortunate fifth positioned team in CONMEBOL and they must play Jordan from the Asian federation (AFC) for the right to play in Brazil. A team with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in the ranks defeated Jordan 5-0 in Amman to suggest that this play-off could be one of the great mismatches in World Cup qualification.
Meanwhile, New Zealand won the Oceanic federation league but are not guaranteed automatic entry as they must play Mexico from CONCACAF to decide which team progresses to the Brazil tournament. Mexico finished fourth of six teams in the last of four rounds in a rather complex scenario in the North and Central American federation.
With Australia now part of the Asiatic football community rather than competing in Oceania, the latter federation has been somewhat reduced in quality but it is likely that their hopes of being represented in the World Cup are fairly slim. Mexico have already crushed the Kiwis 5-1 in the first leg in another two-legged affair offering little hope for the outsiders.
It does appear that the qualification system is being geared to helping the stronger national teams to progress into the summer competition. Although four teams from Asia will be participating in Brazil, including Australia, Jordan were forced to play Uzbekistan in a play-off fixture with the winners facing the prospect of a two-legged meeting with the fifth placed South American team.
The South American league is arguably much stronger in depth than the Asian counterpart and so such a procedure is heavily weighted against the developing football nations.
No doubt the global public does wish to witness a competitive tournament in the World Cup finals, but this should not be at the cost of staging play-off matches for which the outcome can lead to a near humiliating finale for the losing teams.
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