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Should we abandon automatic qualification in Euros and World Cups?

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Many would agree that allowing the hosts of a tournament free passage into the competition is simply an absurd policy. However, this policy seems to imbue the two major world soccer tournaments today — The World Cup and the European Championships or the Euro, as is more popularly called.

In the World Cup, 32 places are available in the final tournament, however, one of them is reserved for the host nation, but if two or more nations host the competition jointly, each is awarded a place.This policy, also holds for the European Championships and even the Asian Cup.

Soccer savants have claimed that the use of such a policy, seriously blemishes the credibility of these tournaments and that it has taken away from potential truths about who is really the best. I tend to agree with this opinion and shall offer in this article, my reasons why automatic qualification must be abandoned in World tournaments.

The ultimate purpose of any tournament whether zonal or worldwide, is to seek the best team at that time. Let us use the recently concluded Euro as the example. My primary analytical question is, can we really say that Switzerland or Austria are better footballing nations than England or Denmark or North Ireland? When the 16 participating teams of the Euro finals are presented, the implicit assumption is that these 16 are the best of European football.

Yet, Switzerland and Austria were gratuitously included, solely on the basis of playing hosts, and moreover, at the expense of countries with a much richer football pedigree. The system must be rectified so that in the future, when the final 16 or 24 or 32 are presented, critics and fans can have peace of mind and no dispute; knowing that whosoever they are watching, has made it to the final count the fair way and in so doing deserve the right to be there. There must be no “if’s, but’s or maybe’s” about what could have been. This is the only way FIFA and/or UEFA can say that the competition reflects the truth and subsequently their rankings can be justified.

So much weight did this Euro carry, that Spain shot to number one in the world soon after their triumph. But let’s just suppose everyone had to qualify and England had taken that place. Suppose they were drawn into the same group as Spain and as a result Spain never made it out of the group stage. Would they now be claiming Spain is number one? Giving automatic places leaves too much room for suppositions. You can’t have an event that seeks to uncover the best when it makes a way for mediocre teams who may never have made it in the first place, if they had to go through the hard process of group qualification to get there. After allowing such a flaw, to claim that the tournament is fair and is a true reflection of who is the best is rubbish!

I feel that this policy to include the hosts is simply a chivalrous gesture and cannot be continued if we are really in search of the truth. Should they want to present a token of gratitude to the host nation(s), FIFA & UEFA need to find another way to achieve such a goal. The hosts already benefit from the exposure as well as the surge in their tourism sector, so how about just presenting them with an award or accolade. This can be done on the day of the finals, just as everyone is watching. It is a good way of paying respect to the nation for their hospitality. But just letting them compete in the finals on the merit of being the host is a terrible idea.

In Copa America, CONMEBOL’s version of the Euro, there is no qualification by way of hosting. ALL teams compete along with two invited teams. At the tournament’s end there can be no doubt about the champions. They are truly the champions because EVERYONE has been given a chance. Yes, I agree that CONMEBOL contains way fewer teams than UEFA, but, that just means UEFA is responsible for finding a way for all nations to enter a qualification process hence giving all nations equal opportunity to make it to the final 16. It makes little sense to have 51 out of 53 teams compete in qualifiers. The excluded two could have affected the final draw in too many ways. They too should have been put to the test, to see if they have what it takes to be among the best.

Comments (26)

  1. I think is perfectly fair for a Nation which spent a lot of money and time organizing the competition to play it.

    And imagine how stupid is to see the biggest competition being held in your country, but your team is not playing. For me the home team is bounden presence.

  2. Here are the next best countries based on points earned in the qualification groups.

    Bulgaria 25 points
    Scotland 24 points
    Serbia 24 points
    Finland 24 points
    England 23 points
    Norway 23 points
    Israel 23 points

    So Bulgaria would have made it in and Scotland, Serbia, and Finland would have had to get in either by playing each other or some other way to get in the last spot.

    “My primary analytical question is, can we really say that Switzerland or Austria are better footballing nations than England or Denmark or North Ireland?”

    Maybe your question should be are Switzerland or Austria better then Bulgaria, Scotland, Serbia or Finland not 3 teams who still would not have made it in based on points earned.

  3. Kevin,

    Excellent point. Scotland I’d say is stronger than Austria, and could beat Switzerland if they play like they’ve played against France and Italy. Also, if the Swiss and Austria were in qualification I really doubt that they would have amassed 20+ points.

  4. You really have to give a berth to the hosts regardless of what it does to affect play. It’s embarrassing to have a tournament hosted in a country thats team didn’t qualify. If they were to adopt your plan, then a lot of the pageantry would be lost, something that i enjoy in a competition. The only viable solution is to give the world cup to teams who will qualify, but you can’t always know. If they give the WC to england for 2018 and England failed to qualify, that would be a huge embarrassment, more than not qualifying for Euro 2008

  5. I don’t object to Austria and Switzerland having participated in Euro 2008, but seeding them for purposes of drawing the groups might have been a bit too much.

  6. two points (of my own)… but firstly let me agree with the other comments that england did not deserve a place on merit, despite austria or switzerland being automatically chosen. and to dispel what is clearly a thinly veiled gripe at ‘what could have been’ for england, my first point… this spain team would have walked all over ANY english team of any generation. no england team, not even the world cup winners of ’66 nor any english team, not even manchester united’s recent european cup winning team has ever played football as effectively and attractively as that. (though i have to say arsenal and manchester united have come close, as have liverpool in past generations) secondly and rather more simply, they were the rules before qualifcation started so whether or not you have a case to be rid of it in future tournaments, there is still no excuse for ‘what could have beens.’

  7. Leonardo and Max are right. A host country simple has to be in the tournament. Otherwise why are you hosting it in their country?

    AS for Kevin’s suggestion..Seriously dude, Nation’s that don’t qualify via the proper way have no business being in the tournament. So your example with England has no real basis for it to even be considered. Because even if it ever happened England would be pulverised by Spain for just being shit.

    Anyways, most could care less about teams like England and their so called “pedigree”. They didn’t get to the tournament because they were simply not good enough. So I don’t see why rule should be changed to help the likes of them and Bulgaria for example to get through at the expense of a host nation. It already bad enough that the defending champions have to qualify to accommodate such sides already

  8. Bulgaria 25 points
    Scotland 24 points

    Austria and Switzerland should have been made to play a two-legged playoffs with the above two best non-qualifiers.

    That way the hosts do have an advantage of not going through the rigours of qualifying. And at the same time the near-missers would have a second lease of life too.

  9. Switzerland did not play badly at all. Neither did Austria, but both really lacked the ability to finish. And in football, if you can’t find the back of the net…you won’t walk out winners. However they definitely played better than they had done in friendlies prior to the tournament- something can be partially attributed to home support.

    Your point about weak hosts is a valid one, but in many countries, people will come to watch only if the hosts play. Of course, football today is a global game, but if you exclude Europe, I’m not sure whether tournaments hosted in smaller nations in other continents will attract that much local interest should the host team not participate.
    Plus, if the home team does do well, it gives a boost to football in the country.

    Wikipedia states that 48,000 people watched the Spain-Italy quarterfinal in Vienna in comparison to the full house of 51428 that watched Austria complete their league engagements.

    And you need that local flavour- whether you like it or not. The tournament is just not the same without them.

    Maybe I’m a bit sentimental in a world where emotions do not really matter much, but those are my views.

  10. Yes I agree with #1. You can’t tell a host that they can’t play in their own tournament. Either way, Switzerland and Austria are not footballing nations and shouldn’t host any more International football tournaments, they made it anti-aesthetic. When I think of the world cup I think of the sun, great players, class, elegance. Austria and Switzerland lack all of that. I think that the only countries that should host a world cup are the south american ones, southern european ones, african ones and a few others. Most certainly not Korea and Japan.

  11. you think its absurd allowing free qualification for the host nations? i think its absurd that the hosts should have to fight for qualification. the reason is simple. if the hosts do not play, the locals will have less interest in the tournament, the atmosphere will basically suck, and most importantly im pretty sure that less tickets would be sold. that reason in itself is enough to allow free qualification for the hosts, from the organising committee’s point of view.

    all things aside, england would have not prevented spain from progressing had they been in the same group. why bring england into this? they wouldn’t have qualified even if there were 2 extra spaces from austria and switzerland.

  12. I want to disagree with #10 PeeJay. I do not think that restricting the host countries to countries with class and elegance is a good idea because its tournaments like this that help host nations out. I think its great for the Austrian and Swiss leagues that the tournament was held there as it will boost the leagues. It shows that leagues like theirs are on the up with the class of players they are producing and the stadiums that teams played in during the tournament. If you only let the top footballing countries host tournaments then they would be the most benificial and would surely increase the gap between the top teams and the mediocre teams.
    Talking on the original discussion of this topic I think that tournaments like this should allow the host team(s) automatic qualification along with the winners of the previous tournament. That way the competition for places would be greater and a lot of teams would have to raise there game in order to qualify, thus making the qualifying rounds a lot more exciting.

  13. I think not having the host team in a tournament would kill the atmosphere. Where it is a host share situation, the two host nations should have a match to decide who gets the automatic place. The loser goes into the qualifying pot. Seems fair.

  14. In addition to a place, or places, going to the host(s), there is also a place reserved for the current champions. How about this place being up for grabs. (As it used to be in the Euros.)

  15. No hard feelings, but your point is rediculous. Automatic qualification is the least a country can get for bothering to organize the tournament, investing huge amounts of money in stadia and infrastructure and being basicaly paralized for a month. If you think that is unfair, what about Olympics, where the host country automaticly qualifies for all team sports, no matter how bad they might be? So, in Beijing China will compete in say, handball, although that sport is hardly even played there, while even the gold medalists have to qualify (in fact, the defending champions failed to qualify for last two Olympics), and some really strong teams won’t be there. Is it fair that UK will compete in basketball, waterpolo and handball in 2012 at the expense of countries where these sports are actually played? Now, this is unfair, leaving one spot for hosts in Euros/World Cup is quite sensible.
    @Ant: That place is for grabs, title-holders do not qualify automaticaly. And they NEVER did for Euros, although they always managed to qualify, except France who failed to qualify in 1988 as holders. Update your info, mate.

  16. But did Euro 2008 have that summer flavour that we so usually expect from international tournaments? No.

  17. Letting home nations qualify is the right thing to do, although in a 16-nation tournament hosted by 2 countries it really does suck for those who have to qualify. Perhaps a more reasonable alternative would be to force the Euros to be held in one country only.

    However, I doubt that will happen. Platini is pushing for a 24-team European Championship and that will only encourage dual-hosts and possibly reduce this ‘quality’ issue we’re having. I disagree with the 24-team format – championships are for the best teams, the rewards should be made higher and perhaps the teams should play more than 3 group games, but other than that 16 teams should be kept.

  18. peejay#16, thats just the bitter taste of not qualifying, nothing to do with the calibre of the tournament, which was excellent.

  19. I’ll say it short, a 20 team tournament looks like there would not be a drop in quality, letting in 8 more after 16 seems to be a bit more of a risk at a drop in the quality of games but as for this tournament, some teams were quite close to the same in talent level such as Turkey and Croatia. They had no breathing room.

  20. #16 – I heard it was colder than usual. what ‘summer flavour’ were you after? This, or this?

  21. I agree that the host should be allowed to play in their own tournament. A solution would be simply to stop co-hosting. That’s already 1 extra berth open.

    Besides FIFA uses its tournaments as a vehicle to increase local interest, and/or help financial development of football in that nation. e.g. 1994 and 2012. It would be a rather pointless exercise if the local nation isn’t taking part.

  22. of course I meant 2010 World Cup in South Africa rather than 2012.

  23. I think #8 Soccer writer has the best solution here. I still do not think that organizing the tournament is enough justification for automatic entry.

    Furthermore saying that the locals won’t be interested if thier country isn’t involved is rubbish. The best football in the world is on display in your own country and you will not support because your country didn’t qualify? That idea is absurd…of course people will come out to see Ronaldo and Ballack and some other greatest players today regardless of if their own nation qualify. Moreover the revenue the contry makes from the influx of supporters very much helps to level out what the spent on organizing themselves. Even further to that these countries jump at the chance to have that kind of exposure. So money is a non-issue for a nation like Switzerland.

    The bottom line is a tournament must reflect truth. It must be justified. Therefore automatic qualification compromises truth. I can never be satisfied knowing that Austria walked into a major tournament with their VERY mediocre team many other teams that are way better could have had that spot if Austria had to qualify.

    So to reiterate I think #8 has offered the best solution to the problem. The reasons I have read here for allowing them into the tournament are very weak. If you disagree, then you must ask yourself ‘What is the ultimate purpose of this Tournament’ and then ask ‘how should this be achieved.’

  24. I live in Trinidad. A tiny island in the Caribbean. We jumped at the chance to host the Fifa U-17 World Cup when the opportunity came along. Money didn’t matter. The locals got a chance to see Robinho, Diego, Niko Kranjcar and Messi in person. Yes we got automatic qualification and went out in the first round but it didn’t matter. Stadia were always packed for games. The point is we got that spot simply as a host which was unfair to many other teams.

    On the issue of money,Profit and Loss was a non-issue. No one cared how much our government spent to organize the thing. We all knew we wanted it. The footballers here wanted it. The media wanted it and the people wanted it. What the exposure did for us was much better. Now many more European clubs are willing to give players from our tiny island a shot in the big leagues.Moreover we made ridiculous profits in Tobago from foreigners staying over for the Tournament. Everyone was happy and we would still have been happy to host it regardless of whether we played in it or not. The benefits were already fantastic.

    According to Jack Warner Trinidadian and FIFA Vice President, “This is an historic time for sport and the people of Trinidad & Tobago. To hold a FIFA championship is an honour given to few, and now it is our time when the world’s attention will be on our nation and on our people,”

    “We look forward to welcoming the world to our islands … and to the first football world championship to be held in the Caribbean.”

    So host nations especially the smaller ones, don’t care about costs. They don’t need the reward of Automatic qualification for their ‘troubles’

    In that tourney we were drawn into a group with Brazil, Croatia and Australia. We conceded 9 goals with Brazil giving us 6 of the very best. Clearly we were not on the level of these teams and as such the spot we occupied was simply a gesture of goodness by FIFA. But in all honesty, a better team could have had that spot.

    Recently, FIFA announced that Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico have been awarded the FIFA Under-17 World Cups in 2010 (Women’s) and 2011 (Men’s), respectively. The country is teeming with anticipation for these events and I do not feel that if we were denied a place that it would change the anticipation.

    All this to say your points about money are simply weak.

  25. Rhian,

    It would certainly be interesting to see how hosting a football tournament where the home team isn’t participating would play out. And you’re right – home advantage shouldn’t be played like this, although one could certainly make it easier – as #8 suggests.

  26. I like your comments Rhian Joseph, apart from when you said our points about money are simply weak. They are not weak at all. You can’t tell me that nobody at all was interested in the financial gains that could be had for the country who is hosting a major tournament. Nobody cared how much the government spent to organize the thing because your government knew that hosting such a tournament would only help the financial situation of the host country. This is all getting away from the actual argument now though. The topic is entitled ‘Should we abandon automatic qualification in Euros and World Cups?’ I personally do not think it should be banned.