Paul Marcuccitti is a passionate
soccer fan from Australia who will share his views about the World Cup in this column.
Read earlier columns
Thanks UEFA - I'm glad you read PWC
Just over two weeks ago, I wrote an article on this site which contained a
slightly provocative statement: "the Champions League is monumentally
I was probably being a little harsh and should have said, "the Champions
League can be monumentally boring". A couple of words here and there can
make quite a difference. But the article was written during the World Cup
finals and, as a full-time employee and part-time volunteer journalist
trying to meet some self-imposed deadlines, I often had to forego those one
or two extra edits I would usually give a piece before sending it off to
The Champions League isn't all bad. But the most unfortunate part of the
Champions League set up - the two group stages - usually is. Other than that
small substitution ("can be" instead of "is"), however, I wouldn't take back
anything I wrote in The return of a long lost friend, a column inspired by
the joy of knockout football at the World Cup.
Well, it seems that Lennart Johansson and his heavyweight pals at UEFA are
devotees of the Planet World Cup. Because, if you hadn't heard already, the
second group stage of the Champions League is going to be scrapped. This
season's competition will retain the painful format when it reaches the
final 32 - eight groups of four then four groups of four then knockout
quarter-finals. But the following season (2003-4) will see the 16 teams
which survive those initial eight groups of four going straight into
knockout ties. Fantastic!
Of course (you know what I'm going to say) it would be better again if there
was no group stage at all but the 2003-4 arrangements will be a definite
The reasons Johansson gave for the change mainly focus on fixture congestion
and the amount of injuries that causes. While it's not something I focussed
on in my article, I have no problem with that rationale. Here are a few
quotes from Uncle Lennart:
"We (UEFA) believe this reduction in the size of the competition is in the
longer term interests of everyone involved - clubs, players, fans,
broadcasters, sponsors and European football in general."
"We want to see a better balance in European football, a less congested
fixture list for players and clubs and a flagship competition which has the
right sporting mix and brand strength."
"At the World Cup there were many injuries because players were worn out.
Also, we've been shown that people aren't able to digest every match shown
on television. Many people are confused with the match dates. Football has
its attraction but we should not overdo it."
"We did not sit in our ivory tower and make decision. We got our ideas from
different sources. The clubs themselves have found that the number of
matches needs to be reduced. We consulted about 100 clubs from each and
every sector, and they all changed their minds. Now we have to wait for the
reaction as a whole. But in the end we needed to do something for the good
of the majority."
You won't get a negative reaction from me, Lennart.
The third paragraph of that selection of quotes (which talks about World Cup
injuries and match date confusion) is probably the key. But they all make
very beautiful reading.
Irrespective of this decision, I admit that I've always believed that, when
it comes to organisational/format matters for football competitions, UEFA
usually outpaces FIFA.
For example, UEFA has extra options for breaking ties between teams which
can't be separated on points, goal difference, goals scored and match
result. Where FIFA would immediately reach for the nearest coin (and we have
come close to seeing teams eliminated this way many times in the World Cup
finals), UEFA has extra tie breaking methods - Fair Play and results from
UEFA has also been quick to see the limited value of the golden goal and has
brought an end to its use in European competition. I doubt FIFA will follow
suit. I can see that the golden goal might have appeared successful at
Korea/Japan: five knockout matches went to extra time and three were settled
by a golden goal so we only had two penalty shoot-outs - the lowest since
before the World Cup finals moved to a 16 team knockout phase in 1986.
However, there was only one golden goal at France '98 (out of four matches
that went to extra time) and, although it's designed to reduce the number of
shoot-outs, I would much rather see teams have the opportunity to come back.
(If you don't agree with me, see if you can find yourself a tape of the 1970
semi-final between Italy and West Germany. Or West Germany-France 1982; or
Belgium-Soviet Union 1986; or Cameroon-Colombia 1990; or even Sweden-Romania
1994. You may change your mind.)
Besides, while we're looking at this subject from a quality of play
perspective, I still feel that "golden goal" extra time encourages teams to
avoid conceding the golden goal more than it inspires them to score it.
Many of you might feel that debates about systems and formats are of
secondary importance to discussing the game itself. But, as I've often said,
the way teams approach competitions is influenced/determined by the ways in
which those competitions are designed.
We should remain vigilant on matters such as these. How much more proof does
anyone need - better formats and structures usually mean better play and
fairer outcomes. And now we know that UEFA reads PWC. Thanks guys, I'm glad
you do. This website's faithful contributors will happily publish more
useful observations for you.
OK, please forgive me if I'm a little smug. But I'm off to e-mail Uncle
Lennart now to tell him that if he likes my ideas so much he can employ me
to oversee his tournament structures, seeding calculations, etc.
I could get used to Geneva.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.