Canada will play host to the 2015 Women’s World Cup with six cities, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver in what will be the largest tournament ever with the event expanding to 24 teams.
While I have no doubt that Canada will do an exemplary job of hosting the event the thought that FIFA is pushing forward with expansion from 16 to 24 too quickly has certainly been tossed around and is being rebuffed ever so slightly what we are seeing at the Olympics.
While only a couple of games have gotten close to being out of hand, (France 5-0 over North Korea and Brazil winning by the same score over Cameroon), there have been enough examples of the gulf between the more developed and less developed to easily say that in 2015 especially the initial round is going to be far from the exhibition of the best women’s soccer has to offer.
This coming from a tournament where two thirds of the current top twenty-five countries as ranked by FIFA are not even participating but where three from outside that group are. The combined record of those three (Colombia 28th, Cameroon 50th and South Africa 61st) is 0-0-9 with 1 GF and 20 GA.
Simply put while the pretext of helping to develop the game is wonderful on paper In the effort to bring the women’s game along FIFA is over reaching the talent that is available, at this time (or just three years hence) in the women’s game.
The allocation of spots for the regional federations in 2015 certainly does not help. The current allotment is: AFC (Asia) 5 Spots, CAF (Africa) 3, CONCACAF 3.5 + Canada as hosts, CONEBOL (South America) 2.5, OFC (Oceania) 1 and UEFA (Europe) 8.
Using the current FIFA rankings as a guide, the expected AFC entries would be Japan, North and South Korea, Australia and China, the European entries Germany, Sweden, France, England, Italy, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. All the aforementioned countries are well within the current top 24 in the world with China at 18th being the lowest ranked.
These two confederations will fill 13 of the 24 available spots and despite the odd collapse (see North Korea in current Olympics and China’s recent failings) would be expected to represent the women’s game well now and in 2015.
Next up CONCACAF with perennial favourites the USA, current world number one, Canada as hosts and likely Mexico (24th in world currently) would take three of the remaining spots and continue to keep all participants within the current top 24.
When starting to fill the remaining eight spots things quickly drop into the lower levels of the rankings and one suspects that these teams may certainly be stretched to keep things respectable on the field of play based on past, current and immediately foreseeable trends in development.
The final two spots from CONCACAF would be filled by Costa Rica and the winner of a play-off with the third placed South American team (possibly Trinidad & Tobago but we’re going to give the edge to Argentina). Costa Rica is currently ranked 40th and Argentina 34th. Brazil and Colombia two Olympic contenders would fill out the CONEBOL spots – Brazil currently sits fourth in the world while Colombia 28th in the rankings. The Colombians finished 0-0-3 at the Olympics with 8 GA and 0 GF.
New Zealand in the one team Oceania pool and currently ranked 22nd have been both competitive and combative at the current Olympics and along with three teams from Africa all outside of the top current 25 Nigeria (27th), Ghana (51st) and Cameroon (52nd) would round round our hypothetical roster of teams for 2015.
What it means is almost a full third of the teams playing in 2015 will be from outside the top 24 in the world and in some cases potentially outside the top 50 for the “showcase” event of women’s soccer. Certainly not ideal and not good for the minnows of the women’s game.
The solution? Take away the half spot from CONCACAF and give it to UEFA to play in against the South American third place team and remove a half spot from CAF and again let UEFA use it as a play in against the African third place side. People will complain that it slants things towards UEFA but the reality is with 16 of the top 25 teams in the world they arguably should have half the spots available.
By having the last two spots as play in spots we keep the doors open to the developing countries, give them two more games against quality opposition (down only one if they as expected went 0-0-3 at the World Cup proper) and allow them to earn their way in.
The result a slightly more competitively balanced tournament that has a better chance of being a true showcase of the women’s games and it’s stars.