There is Nothing Like a Dame

There's a really nice - and little noted - prize awaiting the winner of today's Germany - Italy Euro 2012 Semifinal match. And it's not just the opportunity to play Spain in a final which, we all fervently hope and pray, is a whole lot more entertaining than that putrid, leaden and deathly dull display of yesterday.

Regardless of who the eventual Champion turns out to be, the winner of today's game gets their ticket punched for the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil next June.

The reason for this is quite simple: Spain, as the reigning World Cup Champion, is in the ConFedCup automatically, and because of this UEFA will be sending their runners-up to fill the slot assigned to them.

Thus, the winner today is going, even if Spain crushes them like windshield bugs in he final on July 1. Good deal.

Best of all, however, is that by sending two teams which, by rule, can't be in the same group, one of the two UEFA teams will find themselves in an early match against that scourge of world football known as:

Tahiti.

Now, I'm told that Tahiti is a very nice place and I'm sure it's true.

Even if the images of naked island maidens frolicking amongst the palm trees on pristine sand beaches is something of a fantasy - particularly after the British showed up and insisted that they cover up, which was doubtless a factor in the King then proceeding to drink himself to death - I'm still quite certain that I'd like it there.

But this jewel of the South Pacific, population 178,000 (think Providence RI or Knoxville TN), currently ranked 179th in the world (right behind Swaziland), has no business taking the pitch against the likes of Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, Spain and today's winner.

The reason you weren't aware of this situation, you Eurocentric Imperialist, is because the Oceania Confederation's Nations Cup final was held two weeks ago in the Solomon Islands (it was supposed to be held in Fiji, but OFC General Secretary Chuck Blazerapookahanakalataki got into a squabble with the locals and he yanked it at the last minute) while you were busy watching UEFA soccer from Poland and the Ukraine.

In previous years Oceania sent either Australia or New Zealand to this affair, but ever since Australia begged out of the OFC so they could go play with the big boys, New Zealand has been the only semi-credible outfit in the region.

Now I'm sure you recall the 5-0 pasting they took from Spain's bench at South Africa '09, but they won plaudits all round for their "pluck" or "spirit" or whatever it was they demonstrated, and everyone agreed that, considering who else makes up Oceania, we'd be treated to more of the same for years and years to come.

But somehow, New Zealand only managed to come in third in the OFC Cup thingie this year (yes, they made them play a third place game), and so Tahiti is on deck for Brazil.

To give you some idea of the caliber of Tahiti's team, only two of their players are on sides someplace other than on that tropical paradise, said teams being US Changé of the Championnat de France amateur 2 Group H, and something called FC Bleid-Game which seems to be in the Belgian Third Division, as near as I can tell.

In short, we're not talking about your run of the mill international mismatch; we're talking one of the monumental wipeouts in football history, regardless of which of the possible opponents they draw, and nobody wants to see it.

A team like Spain or Mexico has two choices: a) see if they can break the record for biggest margin of victory in a FIFA tournament or b)send out the bench and make rules like you do when your youth team is beating the life out of some poor bunch of kids, like "only play with your left foot" or making them stay on their own side of the halfway line.

For Tahiti, the only plausible strategy will be to put 11 players in the penalty area and pray.

Now in point of fact, I'm sure that FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke likes Tahiti too, and if by some chance it's still on his bucket list he'll be crossing it off next year when the FIFA Executive Committee All Expenses Paid Trip to Exotic Locations Tour Beach Soccer World Cup visits that island paradise.

Nonetheless, when Valcke told the media last week that he thinks it's "great" that Tahiti won the OFC spot in the Confederations Cup, he more than likely had mixed emotions at best.

What he wants us all to hear is that Tahiti is an example of how FIFA's worldwide development programs are beginning to bear fruit and that this is just the beginning of a long line of tiny, small-population nations who will soon be marching into the big tournaments because of all the GOAL grants and such that FIFA bestows on the minnows of the world.

In fact it's an example of just the opposite.

It's just not a secret that Tahiti won the OFC Cup because the OFC is - how shall I put this diplomatically? - really, really shitty.

Yes, obviously if you put a bunch of small, weak federations in the same confederation, - consisting, it should be noted, of only ten members - one of them will end up winning the thing.

But when you put the same caliber of teams in a bigger confederation - like, to pick an example entirely at random, CONCACAF - they will never, ever advance anywhere. Give them all the cash, facilities, advisers, clinics and sponsors you can muster and they're still going to be Tahiti.

Or Antigua or St. Martin or Bermuda.

The larger ones will occasionally manage to push through - Jamaica in 1998, Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 - and it's truly a great, great thing.

But for the tiny, flyspeck federations, there is not now, nor will there ever be, the slightest chance of any of the "smaller nations" making a major international tournament.

Rather than the shining example of football progress that Valcke wants us to believe Tahiti represents, what this really shows is the flaw in the current setup.

If bringing one or two token punching bags to the big shows every time around is the goal, then fine; make a pool of small population no-hopers and let them duke it out for a spot or two.

I'd be all for it. Let a team like Uruguay or Germany run their bench out there and see if the small fry can make a match of it. Who knows, maybe once in a great while a miracle will happen. That's one of the great things about soccer.

As it is, Oceania is the only confederation where a tiny nation has the slightest chance of winning a slot in a major event.

If the goal is to have it happen more often - and I'm all in favor of it; why should only the bigger countries of the world have the thrill of seeing their team in a World Cup? - then let's admit it and rearrange the system so that everybody has a shot.

Ridding CONCACAF of most of the Caribbean nations and putting them into a pool with the Oceania feds - and some others from around the globe - isn't being mean to them; rather, it would mean giving them a chance that, as things stand now, they're never going to have.