Saturday, June 28, 2008

Soccer is Not a civilized form of war

Wow! The Asian round of the finals for FIFA World Cup qualifying will have a "Group of Death" and a group of also-rans, as per the draw in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (I've been there). Except for Australia, the strongest sides are all in Group B--South Korea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia.

The only gimme for South Korea (who emerged leaders in their last round, after taking second to Saudi Arabia in the previous group) is UAE. Group A favorites Australia and Japan will face Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Qatar. Hardly an even distribution of power. But of course, World Cup qualifiying never promised to be fair.

Korea continues to have a strong squad from the days when Guus Hiddinck led them to the semis in 2002 (I hear he gets free travel on KAL for life); however, they have not managed to beat North Korea in three meetings recently, twice in the WC qualifying round that ended on Sunday. The matches were ties, though the South went through due to goal difference of 7 - 4 in a group which included Jordan and Turkmenistan. In case you were wondering,
This "semi-final" round of qualifying had five groups of four teams each, with the top two in each group qualifying for the final round. At the draw in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, the remaining 10 teams will be [were] divided into two groups of five teams each. Between September 2008 and June 2009, each team will play eight games (four home and four away), and the top two teams in each group will qualify for World Cup 2010. The two third-placed teams will then play a two-leg playoff to determine who will enter an identical playoff with the representative from Oceania. The Asia-Oceania playoff winner qualifies for the World Cup. The draw will consist of four pots. In the first pot are the top two seeded teams, the second pot containing the next two teams, the third pot containing the next two teams, and the final pot containing the bottom four teams. One team from each of the first three pots and two teams from Pot 4 will be in each group. The AFC will have a random draw to break a 4th-seed tie between Japan and Saudi Arabia.

On paper, it's a good scheme, but in reality it looks like Iran, North Korea or ROK is going to get screwed out of a berth. Fortunately, none of them will have nuclear weapons by 2010, so fallout can be kept to a minimum.

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