Cannon fodder should be fired from World Cup
Call it a perk of the job, but over the years I have been fortunate to get up close and personal with some of soccer's most iconic trophies.
In 2001, for example, I literally got my hands on the oldest of the lot. Lifting the FA Cup (which had just been won by Liverpool) was a personal thrill I will always cherish.
At heart I am just another fan who happens to get paid for following a sport I have always loved. You can imagine how excited I felt being inches away from, and having my photograph taken with, the FIFA World Cup Trophy during its recent, brief stopover in Canada.
The World Cup does exactly what it says on the trophy. It is, without question, the only truly global team award for excellence that has stood the test of time, involving almost every country on the planet. There are plenty of other world championships, but there is only one World Cup.
When Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga set about his winning design for the World Cup Trophy, his inspiration was two-fold. The sculptor wanted to combine the athlete and the world - hence the solid gold statue that has become the ultimate symbol of soccer success.
Nations from every corner of the globe enter this competition. More than 200 countries attempted to qualify for South Africa 2010. The vast majority failed but the successful 32 finalists and their fans will bring life and colour to a month long extravaganza.
In recent years more guests have been invited to the party. The 24-team format was expanded by eight from France '98 onwards but the numbers simply don't add up. In reality, there are few credible contenders since, in its 80-year history, a mere seven nations have ever won the World Cup.
The more the merrier? Certainly, from FIFA's viewpoint. More teams, means more viewers which means more money. It would be wrong to accuse the world governing body of sacrificing quality for quantity since cream generally rises to the top.
But do we have a better competition or merely an inflated pool of minnows to drive global audience figures? I'm not convinced the current format adds any tangible improvement over the previous model.
This is the World Cup after all. This is the best of the best. By all means enlarge the tournament but surely there needs to be some quality control. This is the first World Cup to be staged on the African continent, yet the best team in Africa will not be competing.
Egypt has won the last three editions of the African Cup of Nations, but it won't be represented at the World Cup. South Africa didn't even qualify for the 2010 African Championship but gets in as the host nation while the Pharaohs sit at home and watch the World Cup on television.
Croatia and Russia, ranked 9 and 11 in the world respectively, are also conspicuous by their absence. Wonderful players such as Luka Modric and Andrei Arshavin and will be denied the chance to showcase their talents while New Zealand and North Korea (ranked 78 and 106) get to dine at football's top table.
I understand it is the world's game and, as such, the path to the World Cup can be devilishly difficult or embarrassingly easy depending on the geographical qualifying region. But is a two-legged playoff against Bahrain any plausible way to justify a nation's place in the finals?
Furthermore, does the likelihood of a good spanking in all three group games followed by early departures back to New Zealand and North Korea really aid the development of the game in these far flung corners of the soccer universe?
We're all drawn in by the improbable tale of an underdog overcoming huge odds to achieve mission impossible. But if we have learned anything from history, these stories are mere flights of fancy when it comes to the World Cup.
Sooner, rather than later, the minnow is devoured along with its dignity.
About the Author
Nigel Reed brings his extensive experience, passion and knowledge of the game of soccer to his role as play-by-play announcer for Major League Soccer ON CBC.
Reed has more than 20 years experience covering soccer, most notably a five-year stint from 1999 to 2004 where he was a host and producer for the English Premier League for BBC. He also covered English Premier League giants Liverpool and Everton for BBC Radio and provided analysis for both BBC TV and the BBC website.
Reed, who will also call matches for CBC's FIFA broadcast package, covered weightlifting, taekwondo, soccer and equestrian for CBC's coverage of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.