Rearranging the World Order

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Michael Bertin writes about soccer for Deadspin World Cup qualifying in Europe is too easy. I know that sounds ridiculous given some of the results over the weekend—France losing to Austria, Italy needing stoppage time to nip Cyrpus, and England being rescued against Andorra (again) by five inspired minutes from Joe Cole—but in all likelihood those teams are all still going to make it to South Africa. England will probably even be there to compete. Look at a map of Europe circa 20 years ago. I count 18 countries currently in qualifying that weren't even there when Bush XLI was telling us to read his lips. In fact in Group Six, England's group, the only other country you'd find on that map (provided it didn't specify the Soviet republics) is Andorra. And they didn't start competing in qualification until the 2002 World Cup cycle. It's like England drew the equivalent of four iterations of Kansas City Royals split-squad teams.The fact that England will struggle isn't a reflection of any depth in Europe. It's a reflection of England sucking. This was the second (and consecutive) time they were unimpressive against Andorra. Most of Andorra's national team comes from players at Andorra FC. And while domestically based, AFC currently plays in Spain. In the third division. England should have been able to outscore Vince Young's Wonderlic against Andorra. Ergo: England is shit. Sorry, shite. But they will probably still qualify. They'll finish behind Croatia, have a nervy home-and-home against maybe Poland or Sweden, get bailed out by a late strike from Frank Lampard, draw into a ridiculously easy WC group, detach from reality and start talking about a run to the semis, then lose in the round of 16 to Argentina. Really, it's so predictable it can turn an idiot like me into Kreskin. This is not to pick on England, they've given the world Calculus, penicillin and the Clash. Personally, my life has benefitted greatly from two of those things. That England can be so incredibly mediocre and still advance to South Africa for 2010 just proves the point about Europe. In fact, qualifying out of CONCACAF, the U.S.'s region, might be tougher than coming out of Europe. And I'm being serious. I'm not saying we're better than England or that CONCACAF is better than UEFA. Our region is overrated and the United States is a second rate soccer nation (although what nobody ever adds is that there are about 12 rates in world soccer, so second is not that bad). More importantly, on the biggest stage, the US shits the bed almost as a rule (but take note Joe Morgan, we're super fucking consistent). Here's why we have a tougher road than the Euro nance boys: the U.S., we will go topple another government. And I'm not even talking about the last sovereign nation we invaded apparently so our elected officials could hand out no-bid cost-plus contracts to their poker buddies. Vietnam, the Phillipenes, Iran, Chile, we'll destabilize a government and do it without much thought to the long term consequences. Within our qualifying region, we've tinkered in the national affairs of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama. We regularly force our national soccer team to go where we've disposed of legitimate leaders. It's kind of hard to play in places where they'd like to kill you for fucking up their countries. Look at the U.S.'s two matches to this point. Game 1 degenerated into an elbowy bloodsport in Guatemala. Game 2 we traveled to a country we've methodically driven to economic ruin over five decades. Neither host thought enough of us to even bother turning on the stadium lights. Hell, we go to Mexico and our players get pelted by Ziploc bags filled with urine and feces. Name one venue where England's players are are likely to get pelted with urine bombs. One stadium besides Wembley that is. And this is exactly what World Cup qualifying should be. Politics doesn't make strange bedfellows, it makes awesome sports. Even with the mild surprises in Europe over the weekend, the matches were all painfully boring (cue predictable jokes in 1, 2...) . And that's easy to fix: You meddle with another country, you face them in qualifying. England should have to play Argentina until the seas rise so high that the Falklands aren't on any map that doesn't also include the Mariana's Trench. They held colonial power over Ghana and Nigeria. Excellent. Every World Cup for the foreseeable future would be free of the Three Lions. Sure there's a shelf life here—Italy shouldn't be paying for Caesar's imperial ambitions but Belgium should still be paying for Leopold's—and some cases will require some gerrymandering—there are just not enough days in the FIFA calendar to allow Germany to face every country they've tried to invade—but who decided that geography should be the criteria by which this gets organized in the first place? Nobody smart. That's who. Align the qualifying groups by political conflict and there will never be another lifeforce-sucking scoreless draw like Saturday's Denmark v. Hungary match. And, bonus, Brazil can pretty much cut its national defense budget to zero. US Squeak Past Cuba []