The news that Gibraltar is a small step away from becoming a member of UEFA, coupled with the recently concluded Euro qualifiers, have created the topic du jour: Why should the "big" soccer nations have to play against the "small" soccer nations in Euro/World Cup qualifying? While I know where BL stands on the matter, there has been an avalanche of opinion concerning qualification. See here and here for the opposing viewpoints.
If there was ever a time to discuss the topic, today is it. The beating inflicted upon San Marino yesterday drives home the point that these minnows are the figurative lambs in this story. You can add the Faroe Islands, Andorra, Malta, and Cyprus to the mix as well. These countries field amateur sides that truly have no business being on the field against the historically stronger sides in Europe.
Now I get just as excited as the next guy when Lithuania draws away to Italy, or when Northern Ireland comes back from a goal down to beat Spain at home. These are great stories that should be cheered in the same way that the victory of the United States beating the Soviets was celebrated in the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament.
At the same time though, the truth is that we have to witness more 13-0's than upsets. I think that the minnows should have their say at the UEFA table, but it only makes sense for them to have to play through a pre-qualifying round to make it into the traditional qualifying groups. Why couldn't it be set up the way the Champions League currently works. Traditional powers get in, those that do not have the historical pedigree have to qualify by playing against each other. If say a country like Estonia, improves on a consistent basis through each qualifying cycle, they would move up the ladder and potentially join the countries that qualify for the group stage automatically. Thus a team, Norway for example, that had a couple of good years but then fails to do well in qualifying, would have to forfeit an automatic spot in the group stage and if they can't right the ship, could potentially move down the qualification ladder.
Another set up that has worked in international soccer is theone used for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Minnows have to play each other to earn the right to play in the group stages, in this case the semifinal and final rounds. Teams like San Marino and Andorra would be able to play against another team with similar skills in a two-legged series and move on to play the likes of Lithuania or Northern Ireland.
Either way, something has to get figured out here. Only then could we, the fans, all get want we really want: exciting games like those played yesterday in Belfast and Paris.
Gibraltar could take part in UEFA competitions despite Spain's objections [International Herald Tribune]
Germany provide 13 reasons why no-hopers should go [Reuters]
Fears for tiers [SportBlog]
UEFA Champions League format [UEFA]
2006 CONCACAF World Cup qualification results [CONCACAF]