IOC’s choice poses questions for Fifa

It comes to something when the International Olympic Committee, long the watchword for corruption in international sport, shows more sense than Fifa.

While football was happy to pocket the oil money and give Qatar the 2022 World Cup, the IOC has taken the city out of the running for the 2020 Olympic Games.

Now, by any sensible measure, hosting the Olympics is a far more straightforward than a World Cup. Venues can be concentrated within a relatively small area, many sports take place inside, there are, as a rule, fewer fans to accommodate. Most importantly, that timing is flexible – the Sydney games took place in late September, rather than the usual July/August dates.

So why the snub? Apparently, it’s down to … exactly that reason. The IOC doesn’t want the October games that Doha preferred.

But haven’t the Qataris been telling us all along that they can air condition a World Cup? If they can’t keep Olympians cool at the end of September, how are they going to manage it for footballers in June and July? Fifa – and indeed – the Qataris owe us an explanation.

As an aside, the other city rejected by the IOC is Baku, host to this weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest. While that particular campfest will never rank alongside the Olympics or the World Cup, and the selection procedure is simpler – give it to last year’s winner – wouldn’t it be nice to imagine that the focus on forced evictions and other human rights violations might focus the minds of those taking part in Saturday’s telephone vote?

Nice, but probably unrealistic…


I can’t fix the Euro 2012 draw (and it wouldn’t help England much anyway)

So, flushed by the success of a not-too-far-from perfect guess at the World Cup draw (and let’s … erm … draw a veil over how it actually turned out). Here’s a look at what tomorrow night’s Euro 2012 draw might throw up.

I said about 10 minutes after Poland/Ukraine got the event that England would end up in the deepest coal mine in the eastern Ukraine. Looking at the event map, that would seem to mean Donetsk and Group D alongside Ukraine, probably in slot D3.

Let’s assume also that Uefa don’t like the idea of the Germans going to Poland or Russia going to Ukraine or playing Poland, so Germany take the second seeded place in Group B and Russia go to Group C. That leaves Italy in Group A. They’re not going to fancy a Germany/Holland clash, at least so early in the competition, so Spain go into Group B as top seeds and Holland in Group C.

The bottom half of the draw is less obviously tempting for the fix-minded. But let’s assume that the Uefa wallahs don’t fancy both of the host nations going out early, so fast-emerging France go into one of the other pools – for the sake of argument, Group B. They’ll want to avoid an England-Ireland game so let’s have Ireland in Group A. If the rest of the draw is random, the final pools might look something like this:

  • Group A: Poland, Italy, Croatia, IRELAND
  • Group B: Spain, Germany, Greece, France
  • Group C: Netherlands, Russia, Portugal, Czech Republic
  • Group D: Ukraine, ENGLAND, Sweden Denmark

So, assuming it goes according to Fifa rankings (as it surely won’t), that would give us these quarter finals:

Croatia vs Germany

Netherland vs Denmark

Spain vs Italy

England vs Portugal

So another defeat to Ronaldo’s lot, realistically, or a stuffing by Spain in the semi-finals. Either way, we’ll have fun hopefully in Gdansk, where I’m planning to be for the early part of the finals!

End of the world?

The tension is building – there are just a few hours left before England finds out it has blown its chance of hosting the 2018 World Cup.

OK, perhaps it’s a bit hasty to dismiss the bid already – after all, I do have previous for making duff predictions on such matters (although World Cup draw guesses have a more favourable record on this blog).

But, undeterred as always this is my take on the fields for 2018 and 2022


Russia must host the World Cup one day. It’s one of the world’s most populous countries, football-loving (if not to the football-mad level of the three other bidders), cash-rich and with a plethora of large, international cities. But now? Ridiculous visa rules, limited transport infrastructure to link the disparate cities, complete lack of stadiums . . . after South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, Russia is surely a gamble too far for Fifa. The fact Vladimir Putin has chickened out has been given a significance it perhaps doesn’t warrant. He was only going to be there if his country was nailed on to win – and it’s not. Verdict; second

What’s not to like? Football-mad people, great cities, superb beer, it’s really hard to see why this bid hasn’t gained more traction. OK, the stadiums aren’t all there yet and some of the cities scheduled to host games are on the diminutive side, but it seems that co-hosting is counting against the BeneLux pair more than it is against Spain-Portugal which, when you consider how small the countries in question are, is hard to fathom. Verdict; fourth

Seems to have stolen England’s thunder as the ‘safe’ choice. But it’s hard to see why. The countries are on the verge of bankrutcy, not all the stadiums are ready and one of the partners held a World Cup as recently as 1982. Still, the fabulous football of the Spaniards and positive memories of Euro 2004, not to mention the sound political connections of the Latin diaspora, seem to be putting them into contention. Still, the fact that one bookies was offering odds of 6/1 against them leaves a few doubts. Verdict; Winner

Should be a no-brainer. The most-watched league, the best stadia, first-rate commercial connections, very little needing to be done. OK, so the selection of Milton Keynes as one of the host cities stuck in the craw of some fans (including me). But the farcical way the bid had been managed by the FA, not to mention a complete failure to cut the right deals with the Fifa powerbrokers, has left the England bid team scrambling to stay in the race. David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham might be the the most persuasive line-up of right-wingers this side of the 2012 Republican primaries, but they’ve got it all to do. Still, odds are shortening and perhaps there’s one lasty twist in this sordid tale yet to come. Verdict; third

2022 comments follow

I can’t fix the World Cup draw (but if I could, it’d look something like this)

I’m a nine-year-old at heart, and like all nine-year-olds I can’t wait for next year’s soccerball World Cup, even down to poring over the different permutations for tomorrow night’s draw.

And, inspired perhaps by a certain book by OJ Simpson, I’ve decided to have a look at what the World Cup draw would look like if there was a way to pull off the crime of the century.

Obviously this is written from an England point of view and, equally obviously, the actual draw will be nothing like this….

First, It’s important to consider who we want England, should they trample the minnows in the first round, would play in the quarter-final, the first time they’d come up against a fellow group-winner.

Clearly the weakest seed is South Africa. The hosts may be able to rely on fanatical home support but they have only a handful of truly international-class players. That puts England in Group C.

Next, to the rest. Brazil and Spain are clearly the favourites, so a quarter-final showdown for them would be handy. They’re into F&H respectively. Next, England’s possible semi-final victims. The four other seeds are much of a muchness, but I’ll take a declining Italy and a Diegoe Maradona ‘inspired’ Argentina for E&G, with the Germans and the Dangerous Dutch in B&D.

The second pot brings in Asia, Oceania and North America, so its North Korea for England (rather than a New Zealand side with a point to prove).

Pot C is more tricky, as it involves African and South American sides who can’t face seeds from their own continent. We’ll give Brazil one of the most dangerous unseeded teams, Ivory Coast, and Spain, Ghana. Continuing a trend of putting the weakest possible choice in with South Africa, they’ll face Paraguay. Algeria look the poorest outfit.

Finally, the unseeded European pot, where France, Portugal and the tough Serbs lurk. But England should fancy their chances against Slovenia, while Slovakia would risk a nosebleed if they got as far as the quarter finals.

The final pools would look something like this;

A) South Africa, New Zealand, Paraguay, Slovakia
B) Germany, United States, Cameroon, Serbia
C) England, Korea DPR, Algeria, Slovenia
D) Netherlands, S Korea, Uruguay, Demark
E) Italy, Honduras, Chile, Switzerland
F) Brazil, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Portugal
G) Argentina, Japan, Nigeria, Greece
H) Spain, Australia, Ghana, France

Based on FIFA rankings, this would be the quarter-final line-up.

Paraguay vs Cameroon
England vs Uruguay
Italy vs Portugal
Argentina vs France
Germany vs Slovenia
Netherlands vs Algeria
Brazil vs Chile
Spain vs Greece

Ok, tricky for England – but by no means impossible, and with some real rewards ahead in the shape of semi-finals (rankings-based) that looked like this

Cameroon vs England
Italy vs France
Germany vs Netherlands
Brazil vs Spain

Ok, so Cameroon would have the whole of Africa behind them – but could you really imagine England losing that game? A semi-final with Cap’s native Italy or a post-Zidane France? Going into a final against a bruised Brazil? I dare to dream

But probably shouldn’t, as England will probably end up with Portugal, Cote D’Ivoire and Australia when the balls finally drop some time after 1am Thai time Saturday morning.