Tuesday, June 14, 2011

6-14-11: The Quadrennial “No Soccer” Summer

Let me start by saying that I do know about the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and plan on watching a couple games. I suggest you do, as well. This post focuses on men’s international soccer.

But for most of the world, the summer of 2011 is a “no soccer” summer. The four year cycle of men’s international soccer tournaments has one summer with no major tournaments beyond the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is limited to North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Though many people follow the action of the biennial Gold Cup, it pales in comparison to the European Championships and the FIFA World Cup as far as quality of play. When you look at the (controversially calculated) FIFA World Rankings, you won’t find many CONCACAF members very high on the list. The U.S. is top in CONCACAF at 22nd in the world, followed by Mexico at 28th and Honduras at 43rd. In contrast, UEFA (the European soccer federation) has 13 teams ranked higher than the U.S.

It’s not to say this is a bad thing; you don’t want to saturate the market or devalue the major tournaments by playing them more frequently. I think it’s good to take a break. Next summer will be the European Championship, which will be hosted by Poland and The Ukraine and will be watched by hundreds of millions of fans. The qualification for that tournament is still ongoing. I don’t know if it will be as good a tournament as the 2008 installment, which was the beginning of Spain’s dominance over world soccer, but it should be fun. I don’t like how it’s being co-hosted by two teams ranked outside of the top 16 in UEFA (Ukraine is 23rd and Poland is 36th), though. With a 16 team tournament, it means that two teams that would have likely qualified over the two host countries won’t make it. To be fair, the 2008 tournament was also co-hosted by two mediocre UEFA members in Switzerland and Austria, and the tournament still went well. Still: wouldn’t you want the 16 best countries in the tournament? It would certainly enhance the quality of play.

Well, at least UEFA is moving in the right direction from 2016 onward. The 2016 tournament will be hosted by France and will have an expanded format of 24 teams. Time will tell if the tournament will be better than in it is with its current format.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup began last week. The U.S. plays again tonight, and will advance to the quarterfinals so long as they don’t lose to Guadaloupe.

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