Keen-eyed readers of this site and observers of the world in general will probably have noticed that there’s about to be a football World Cup to be held. It’s certainly something which has piqued my interest. I’ve just wallpapered my house with St. George’s flags and had my daughter renamed Rooney Lineker Platt McManaman by Deed Poll.
However, aside from England who are, as everyone on earth can attest, the Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen, I have observed that some of the wrong teams are in this World Cup tournament. One can only imagine they had some sort of calamity at the draw or forgot to consult me. As I see it, only eighteen of the teams who have qualified for this so-called World Cup deserve to be there. The other fourteen are just inexplicably filling spaces that would be far better occupied by the teams of other countries.
Don’t get me wrong, I bear these teams no ill will, and it’s fair to say that if EXCELLENCE is what you’re after then it is probably in the better interest of the tournament as a whole to allow teams who QUALIFIED to take part in it, rather than an arbitrary list of favourite international football teams, written by a maniac.
And yet, here we are. I, the itchy, forlorn malcontent who skulks in the shadows of your very worst nightmares is writing just such a list and you are sat here reading it. Oh, they’ve gone.
Anyway, who are the 32 teams who would compete in my dream World Cup?
These first two are no-brainers. Both teams have qualified for the finals before, of course: China competed without much distinction at the 2002 tournament and India reached the 1950 edition only to withdraw (as popular rumour has it) due to not being allowed to compete barefoot. Either way, the World Cup would be much improved by the presence of the teams of its two most populous nations.
North Korea (AFC)
South Korea (AFC)
These final three (nerds will note I have taken a liberty here, granting Asia an extra qualifying berth at the expense of UEFA) are based on historical achievement. South Korea are former semi-finalists, while Japan are probably the Asian country most likely to break through to the top level in the coming years. North Korea, meanwhile, combine the historical fact that they were the first Asian team to really make an impact on the World Cup finals in 1966 with the rather more subjective appeal that they are the world’s most secretive and curious nation.
Just as with the Asian contenders, the majority of my choices from the African Confederation are based on the weight of history. Algeria were, let’s not mince our words here, robbed of a second-round place in 1982 and therefore are always in my thoughts when it comes to deserving World Cup qualifiers. Cameroon and Nigeria have both gone one or two better in the intervening years, Cameroon coming within a whisker of the 1990 semi-finals and Nigeria were undone by Roberto Baggio in 1994. Egypt is a more personal choice, being as they were one of England’s group stage opponents in my first World Cup in 1990.
Gabon, meanwhile, is a more personal selection yet. I’d never even heard of Gabon before the sainted FIFA: Road To World Cup 98 video game hit the shelves. Since then I’ve qualified for several World Cups with Les Panthères, most recently in the 2010 edition of the same game when I made it all the way from Libreville to a dismal defeat in the World Cup final itself. Gabon have been my favourite international football team ever since. I refuse to die until I have seen them qualify for a World Cup.
New Zealand (OFC)
This would annoy the Australian team, and as such be very amusing.
Costa Rica (CONCACAF)
El Salvador (CONCACAF)
The North and Central-American qualifiers were tough to pick. Canada made it with an eye to novelty: their only World Cup appearance came in 1986 and they are yet to score a goal in the finals. However, they were the 1904 Olympic football champions and so there’s probably some decent, if a little geriatric, players in that vast nation. Costa Rica charmed me on their World Cup debut in 1990, making it to the second round (a feat they have yet to repeat); while Mexico are very much the World Cup stalwarts from Central America. CONCACAF’s most successful team, however, do not make it. Maybe it’s a lack of romance, or some residual English bias from that defeat in Belo Horizonte 64 years ago, but the United States just don’t do it for me as a football team. They certainly don’t care enough about the sport or the tournament to go to war over. So El Salvador get the nod.
The qualifiers from CONMEBOL largely pick themselves. Brazil are the most successful team in World Cup history, while Argentina and Uruguay both have a pair of titles to their name. Colombia make the cut on entertainment value alone: wherever there is a Colombian team playing in the World Cup finals you know you’re in for any number of treats. Peru, in the meantime, combine a decent history in the tournament with International Football’s Greatest Kit, so that’s that.
Neither Belgium nor Denmark are necessarily countries that anyone would associate with a surfeit of flair. A surfeit of beer, perhaps. However, this is not an argument you could readily make to fans of international football, as both the Belgians and the Danes have provided us with hours of entertainment and skill.
England (Hosts) (UEFA)
This is slightly self-serving, perhaps. Or very self-serving, if you consider the statistical likelihood of England qualifying for the World Cup by other means. However, as we are very keen on pointing out, this whole football thing was our idea in the first place and the entire country’s infrastructure is very much designed with football in mind. Which is not to say that England is a more logical choice to host a summer football tournament than, say, Qatar.
The World Cup is always better when international football’s heritage is well represented. France, Germany, Spain and Italy are all past World Champions and huge players on the world stage. Hungary and the Netherlands, in the meantime, have produced some of the most influential and greatest football teams ever seen in the game. Both are multiple World Cup runners-up and are more than deserving of the chance to try for one better.
The World Cup needs Scotland, one of the two oldest international football teams. The travelling fans are famously the most amiable of the lot and the team bring with it a heady cocktail of hope, expectation, chaos and disappointment.
Sweden are a strange team. You never particularly think of them as major players on the world stage but then when they are not there, as will be the case in 2014, you always notice their absence. They also have some significant pedigree, of course: beaten finalists at home in 1958 and semi-finalists in 1994.
Soviet Union (UEFA)
Vladimir Putin is working on it.
There we have it. It’s all hot air and feathers, of course, but what else would you expect from a World Cup at this stage (two days before it starts)? Here’s mine, now – as the nun said to the bishop – feel free to show me yours.