World Cup qualifying: Minnows in!

For the USA and England, today’s World Cup qualifiers mean games against two of the smallest countries in the world. The USA faces Antigua and Barbuda (population 81,799), and England faces San Marino (31,735).

Mismatches, certainly, though Antigua’s record in international soccer is already a bit better than San Marino’s. The Caribbean nation has a couple of wins against fellow Caribbean teams that have played in the World Cup without embarrassing themselves. San Marino has won exactly once.

Perhaps San Marino would do a bit better if the European draw were different. Andorra is only a few places ahead in the FIFA rankings, yet San Marino appears to have never played its fellow European minnow. It has played a couple of friendlies against Liechtenstein, with one of them accounting for the country’s only win.

That seems unfair, but in a sense, Europe’s system is true to the spirit of the World Cup. Pedantic folks will tell you the “World Cup” includes qualifiers, and that the 32-team tournament we see every four years is the “World Cup final.” If you like the idea of every country entering the World Cup if it so chooses (and each time, only a couple of countries pass up the chance), then having San Marino participate in full on the off chance that it might occasionally tie Latvia is a very good thing.

And it leads to wonderful scenes like this — a terrific piece of television from the 90s that some kind person uploaded to YouTube. Learn all about the Faroe Islands:

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

One thought on “World Cup qualifying: Minnows in!”

  1. ULTRA-pedantic folks will tell you that, in fact, the quadrennial 32-team tournament is the “World Cup Finals” (with an ‘s’) whereas the last game of that tournament is the “World Cup Final” (with no ‘s’).

    Also, there’s no reason UEFA couldn’t structure their qualifiers just like all the other regions do – with a couple of opening rounds where some of the minnows can be winnowed out. That way, teams like San Marino could still fully participate in the WC but we’d be spared some of the mismatches like today’s England tilt.

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