Betfair blogger Gareth Freeman reflects on FIFA's rule on World Cup qualification.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter has announced that the teams who finish second in their World Cup qualifying groups will be seeded, rather than randomly drawn against each other. This means higher ranked sides such as France and the Czech Republic will not have to face each other in the knock out play-offs that follow the group stages. This will come as a blow to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who, should they finish in second place, will now have to face one of the higher seeded sides.
"We have decided on seeding the teams into two groups of four, taking the Fifa world rankings into account, with the top four in one pot and the others in another pot," said Blatter.
Ah well then, it appears Fifa rankings do have some significance after all then. In all honesty I'm a little disappointed by this decision. It makes it harder for the Republic of Ireland to qualify for the competition for one thing and it makes it easier for the likes of the Germans to get in. It would be typical for Germany to qualify by the skin of their teeth and then win the whole thing, but anyway I digress.
As it stands the true cream of the crop (from a very English perspective) from European football have already qualified. Euro champions Spain, total football Holland and, of course, England will all be taking part in South Africa. However, either Germany or Russia will have to battle it out in a play-off, the other will automatically qualify. It looks a fairly safe World Cup football bet to say France will be involved in a knock-out fixture, they trail Serbia by four points with just two games left. Portugal are in very real danger of finishing outside the top two, as are Turkey and Croatia, who could be beaten to second spot by the Ukraine. The Republic of Ireland look to have secured second spot in Group eight, while Northern Ireland still have the slimmest of chances but they must win in the Czech Republic and hope other results go their way.
Had the draw been a random draw we could have been set for the mouth watering prospect of the likes of Germany and France being drawn against each other. Portugal, France, Germany, Croatia, The Czech Republic and Turkey could all have been in the mix to face each other and that would have surely brought about some great fixtures.
Of course every decision has a flip side and with the seeded teams heading into fixtures against teams ranked below them chances are the stronger teams will make it to the World Cup. Ultimately this should lead to a stronger competition next summer, which is probably why Fifa decided to do it this way. It would have been great to see knock-out rounds between sides such as France and Germany though, should both qualify they will surely be amongst the World Cup betting favourites and a play-off could have produced a terrific fixture. On a final note I have to say I'm surprised this wasn't announced – or even decided – sooner, surely it would have been better for all the nations if Fifa had made the qualification guidelines clear before a ball was even kicked?