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Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0? Bah Humbug!

Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0? Bah Humbug!

The excitement across the globe was clear to see on social media all week, by Wednesday it was football’s very own Christmas Eve.

Yet it didn’t take long before the football scrooges came out in force on its Christmas Day.

Russia’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia was greeted with people complaining about the lack of quality on show, and that it is sad to see teams like Saudi Arabia in the competition when Italy, Chile, the Netherlands and the USA are sat at home.

Do we really miss those nations?

Italy went out in the group stage with barely a whimper in the last two editions. To qualify for this one they just needed to beat an extremely average Sweden side. They didn’t even score in 180 minutes.

The USA only required a draw against a Trinidad and Tobago side with nothing to play for. They didn’t get it. In fact, they finished behind a Honduras side that went on to lose fairly meekly to Australia from the now much maligned AFC zone.

Meanwhile, anybody that has watched international football since the last World Cup will know the Netherlands have been stinking the place out.

If Chile aren’t getting a point at home to Paraguay or Bolivia away to qualify then they’ll probably not going to be pulling up any trees in Russia especially with Juan Antonio Pizzi as boss.

Sure, La Roja are better than Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Egypt and Panama – but CONMEBOL is a zone with just ten countries, it’s difficult to justify more than half of them going to a 32 team tournament.

UEFA is the zone that is often referred to by those football Ebenezers as the strongest and therefore should have even more spots in the World Cup.

The truth is – UEFA is top heavy. In the last two World Cups, surely the most relevant for this discussion, 7 of the 13 representatives from Europe were knocked out in the group stage.

That’s the majority of European sides going home before the engines of their planes have had to time cool down.

Parity is difficult to find in football. The UEFA Champions League is now the pinnacle of the sport in the eyes of many and it is a competition that ensures the very best come together at the expense of staying true to its name. Yet it produces far more one-sided matches than the World Cup.

The way football developed and continues to develop has left some confederations lagging behind. Stanley Rous’s reign as FIFA president was especially harmful to the growth of football outside of Europe and South America for the majority of the last century.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that CAF and AFC/OFC were given a guaranteed spot at the World Cup. That decision was sparked by a boycott of African nations from the 1966 edition in England.

This isn’t to say that Saudi Arabia weren’t awful against Russia, they clearly were, but that kind of result is not commonplace in the World Cup in recent editions.

The thrashings tend to be freak matches, which Thursday’s opener may also turn out to be. In fact, two of the most famous trouncings in World Cup history came in the last edition and it was two of football’s heavyweights on the end of them.

I accept that some football fans don’t want to see Panama, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Australia compete in this World Cup, but many others do.

If you only want to see the very best sides play at this World Cup then the solution is quite simple: start watching in July.