As undeniably awesome as last night’s France-Germany match was, it was complete and utter bullshit that these two teams were forced to meet in the quarterfinals. Far from being an unforeseen, unlucky occurrence, this is exactly as FIFA planned it. And France’s Camille Abily, for one, is none too happy about that.
Abily was interviewed in French sports paper L’Équipe following her team’s disappointing loss. Much of the questions addressed how if feels to lose a game she know her team dominated, the impressiveness of France’s World Cup in spite of the result, and what her plans are in the future. The interviewer also made time to get the midfielder’s opinion on the bracket itself, which saw the world’s number one-ranked team face the third-ranked one in the second knockout round:
Isn’t the main frustration at having to face Germany so early in the competition?
“Yes, unfortunately, we are going back to that but FIFA did not conduct a real draw. This is not to blame them [for the loss] but why don’t we do it like the boys? A1 is Canada and for the rest, we would’ve be drawn randomly according to our seeding (*). Do not tell me that for the World Cup, there wasn’t anybody in Moncton! At some point they have to stop taking us for idiots ... I’m sorry but if they did a real draw, maybe we would not have played Germany or the United States after. Inevitably, it’s frustrating even if we knew this from the start. The hope was still to go all the way, as we proved Friday.”
*FIFA has arbitrarily placed the seeded teams in the different groups for sporting reasons and concerning location, according to Jérôme Valcke, the secretary general of the international body.
To clarify exactly what Abily was getting at, this SI article explains the particularities of the WWC’s seeding process:
France and Germany were two of the six seeded teams for the WWC draw last December. But unlike in the men’s World Cup, where seeded teams (other than the host nation) are drawn randomly into their groups, FIFA decided before the draw which groups all the seeded teams would be in at the Women’s World Cup.
When I asked FIFA why it would arrange a likely marquee matchup between No. 1 and No. 3 in the quarterfinals, a spokesperson noted that the Women’s World Cup is different from the men’s World Cup. Basically, FIFA feels like it needs to put certain teams in certain cities to sell tickets and in certain time zones to help with TV ratings back home.
“Similar to previous draws for FIFA Women’s World Cups like Germany in 2011, teams are seeded ... and allocated into specific groups for ticketing and promotion reasons,” the FIFA spokesperson replied. “Whilst the interest in the FIFA Women’s World Cup has grown significantly over the last years, the success and great interest from the public in the tournament in Germany in 2011 can’t be compared to the Brazil [men’s] World Cup. Filling the stadia is a FIFA and host association key objective. The allocation of teams to venues, the ticketing and promotion plan and the ticket price strategy are among the key factors for the overall success of the event.”
So that’s why FIFA placed the seeded teams in their respective groups and locations. Fair enough. But why couldn’t FIFA still have done a random draw to determine where the group winners would be placed in the bracket in the knockout rounds? I asked FIFA that question, but it wasn’t addressed in the organization’s response.
You can see how this would piss you off. The most charitable interpretation of these draw decisions are that France and Germany got screwed because FIFA wanted to sell more tickets throughout the rounds. FIFA was probably banking on a good turnout because of the strength of the teams involved and because of the French-speaking Canadians (yesterday’s game took place in Montreal) eager to support a team that speaks the mother tongue. Abily questions that premise when she asks whether, say, a hypothetical, randomly drawn France-Australia match would’ve been well-attended had it been in Moncton.
However, you just as easily could read in more sinister machinations. The U.S. were placed in by far the most difficult group of the tournament, but would still have needed to completely collapse not to come out on top. Similarly, Canada’s group wasn’t the easiest either, with three of the four teams making it all the way to the quarterfinals, though the Canadians were still favorites. It’s not too much of a stretch to wonder if FIFA placed the U.S. and Canada in those difficult but winnable groups to distract everyone from the relative cake walk they’d in the knockout rounds.
America has to have the biggest viewing audience for the WWC, and is also probably the first- or second-biggest in-person attendees of the games. A good USWNT showing would be very good for FIFA’s pockets. Likewise, the local Canadian team going far would also squeeze the maximum amount of juice out of the host nation. None of it smells right, especially when FIFA admits that they drew up the bracket to make the most money.
Unfortunately for Abily, her teammates, and fans who appreciate the greatness of her team, France were a casualty of FIFA’s greed. It’s not too much of a stretch to believe they were set up to fail.