Tuesday 16 October 2018

Ireland to benefit from FIFA reforms

FAI CEO John Delaney. Photo: Sportsfile
FAI CEO John Delaney. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Ireland should benefit from yesterday's decision by FIFA to overhaul their controversial seeding system.

Unlike UEFA competitions such as the European qualifiers or Nations League, the world governing body includes results of friendlies in their calculation criteria.

6-year-old goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who made his first-team debut in Saturday’s match. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
6-year-old goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who made his first-team debut in Saturday’s match. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Since the redeveloped Lansdowne Road was re-opened in 2010, the FAI has utilised the majority of free international dates outside of qualifiers to host friendly matches.

This policy is geared towards generating revenue, predominantly through season ticket sales, to service the massive borrowings the association was forced to take on to fund their €72m contribution to the building costs of the Aviva stadium.

Against that, however, unfavourable results in the non-competitive games adversely affect rankings. Giovanni Trapattoni, manager of Ireland from 2008-2013, bemoaned the flawed system and the team had sunk to the lowest ever ranking of 59th by the time he left the position.

Where the rankings proved costly was the draw for the last World Cup qualifiers and the subsequent play-offs.

Ireland were included in the fourth pot of nations at the draw held in St Petersburg in July 2015, the first time to be outside of the top three groups since the 1990 World Cup.

After Martin O'Neill's side secured one of the play-off spots at the end of the campaign, their position amongst the lower half of the eight nations meant they were unseeded in the draw.

"It gives, I think, some more weight to competitive matches and so on but also takes away some of these imbalances we had before," FIFA President Gianni Infantino said.

"I hope it will be a little less subject to criticism."

Manipulation

FIFA added that the revamp, due to kick in after the World Cup, would "eliminate the potential for ranking manipulation".

England, too, felt they were penalised for playing too many pre-World Cup friendlies, costing them a first seeding at this year's tournament.

The same happened in 2014 when they were drawn in the 'group of death' along with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica and were eliminated after just two games.

The existing system also allowed the likes of Wales, Switzerland and Poland to climb the table by playing fewer and fewer friendlies, something that saw the latter two seeded for Russia.

There was other potential upbeat news for Ireland yesterday, as FIFA revealed plans to explore the expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams for the next tournament in Qatar. Ireland haven't featured at the greatest show since 2002 in Japan.

The matter had been on the agenda for FIFA's annual congress on Wednesday, with a vote due on the launch of a feasibility study.

However, the item was removed after its council agreed to allow the Fifa executive to discuss expansion first with Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, including the prospect of the tournament being co-hosted by some of the Gulf State's neighbours.

Infantino admitted a final decision on whether the 2022 event contained 32 or 48 teams would have to be taken before qualifying for it begins early next year.

With no FIFA congress scheduled until next summer, it appears that decision will rest with its council, as it did when members voted last year to expand the World Cup from 2026 onwards.

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