Some thoughts the World Cup, Gold Cup, and U.S. Open Cup.By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service
(Monday, August 30, 1999) -- Don't expect the Asia Football Confederation to follow through on threats to boycott the 2002 World Cup except for co-hosts South Korea and Japan. It's a bluff and not worth expending much energy about.
Simply stated, Asia has no case.
It wants three full slots -- or five overall -- and staged a walkout of the FIFA Congress in July in Los Angeles when it didn't get them. What angers many in the soccer community is that Asia already had received an extraordinary concession from Europe, which offered to put its 14th and last qualifier in a playoff against a third Asian team.
That means that Asia would have two-and-one-half slots (in addition to the two hosts) instead of two and that Europe would have 13-and-one-half instead of 14. Asia doesn't deserve more.
Its backers say the region -- which also includes the Middle East -- should have three full slots in addition to the co-hosts because of its population and big area covered. But past performances are key in World Cup allocations, and Asia has done little -- winning just two matches from its four teams (three-and-one-half allocations, it won the playoff against Oceania champion Australia) in France ‘98. Africa jumped from three to five in 1998, and remained there for 2002, because its teams have done well in World Cups.
Europe deserves all it can get. Don't forget that a good England team didn't qualify in 1994 (lucky for United States law enforcement agencies) and a good Russia team didn't make it in 1998.
Same with South America (four-and-one-half, playoff with Oceania), which regularly leaves behind teams that could beat at least a half-dozen World Cup teams. CONCACAF (North America, Central America, Caribbean) gets three, and would merit three-and-one-half if the United States and Jamaica hadn't performed so poorly last time.
The Asia Football Confederation should stop the posturing -- and accept the gift from Europe. If not, FIFA could easily fill the slots from other areas. But it won't go to that extreme.
Asia can't afford to bypass the tournament -- it would retard development of soccer in every country except South Korea and Japan. FIFA can't afford to be held hostage when its present allocation formula is fair.
The 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup figures to be an extraordinary competition -- and hopefully the groupings will not be set up so Mexico has an easy road to the finals and a huge crowd at the Los Angeles final.
There is a full 12-team alignment for the February 12-27 tournament, which helps. Two good teams from South America are participating -- Colombia and Peru. Colombia is rebuilding, but many thought it was the most attractive attacking squad in Copa America. Peru is a young and attractive side as well.
South Korea, the third guest team, was a scrappy though outmatched team in the 1998 World Cup.
Mexico is the class of the field, integrating a couple young players with a solid corps of veterans, many in the prime of their careers. The United States doesn't concede anything, although it is a shade behind Mexico, having not won head-to-head since 1995, with four losses and four draws (one a shootout victory in Copa America) the last eight meetings.
Throw in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago -- particularly if the Caribbean teams can get their English league stars released -- and this has the makings of a terrific tournament.
Four teams will play October 6-10 in Los Angeles for the final two berths -- Canada, Cuba, El Salvador, Haiti. El Salvador is a big fan draw. If Cuba qualifies, it would it play first-round matches in Miami -- imagine the crowd-control problems -- or would it be shunted to the West Coast, either San Diego or Los Angeles?
Let's also hope that CONCACAF does a better job than FIFA did at the recent Confederations Cup of making the games available on television to the U.S. public, or at least the American matches.
Is Major League Soccer finally going to assert itself in the U.S. Cup?
Already the defending MLS champion Chicago Fire and two-time MLS champion D.C. United have been upset by second division A-League teams, which is why this tournament is so attractive. A second division team can beat a first division team on any one night.
It will be MLS vs. A-League in the twin semifinals Wednesday in Virginia Beach, Va. The top-seed Colorado Rapids, leader in the Western Conference, is a heavy favorite against No. 13 seed Charleston (S.C.) Battery, which stunned D.C. United 4-3 in overtime to advance to the quarterfinals. No. 4 seed Columbus Crew, second in the Eastern Conference and host to U.S. Open Cup final Sept. 14, is a moderate choice against No. 9 Rochester (N.Y.) Rhinos, who beat Chicago 1-0 and Dallas 2-1 in overtime.
Rochester may be the best team in the A-League, while Charleston has struggled to stay above .500.
Is Cinderella about to depart? It's just one game . . .
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at
Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.