In an odd kind of a way, it's just as well that a series of technical issues prevented me from posting in this space for the last couple weeks of Brazil 2014.
This is because, in truth, the World Cup is the one thing that FIFA does spectacularly well.
Oh sure, we can nit-pick over this and that, but when it comes to putting a socker product on the fieldpitch, they've got it down. That's largely due to the fact that they're (mostly) smart enough to turn the thing over to their enormous - and enormously competent - technical staff and confine themselves to collecting their lavish expenses and per diums and hobnobbing with the swells at the FIFA Lounges, VVIP suites and high end whorehouses.
But now that Los Ticos, Los Putos and Los Lonely Boys have cashed their checks - $14 million for the Costa Ricans and $9 million each for the other two, which is only a million more than Honduras got for losing every match, scoring a total of one goal and giving up a whopping eight, which seems, I dunno, unfair somehow - we can start looking at the ways Sepp & Co. plan on screwing it up for next time.
Primary among them being the future allocation of automatic slots, and there's a serious fight brewing..
In our case, while there are still some people saying that "CONCACRAP" gets too many representatives, the current 3 1/2 seems unlikely to change for 2018. This is because the current arrangement really amounts to four as long as a) we share it with hapless, hopeless Oceania and b) New Zealand has more sheep than people. And considering too that the occasional outlier like Tahiti sneaks past the forces of logic and reason (see: 2009 Confederations Cup) sharing that slot with the forces of Pacific Islander football may not make the fourth spot a stone cold lock but that's certainly the way to bet.
It's worth noting that in some remarks Blatter made last October he opined that FIFA ought to have a dedicated spot for the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) in order to ensure "true globalization" but in reality that seems unlikely. Either they have to recognize the Caribbean as the 7th Confederation or let CONCACAF decide for themselves what their qualifying procedures will be.
Tellingly, Sepp did not offer to take a spot from someplace else and give it to the Caribbean; rather, he was suggesting that CONCACAF reserve one of its current 3.5 tickets for the CFU, something which the North and Central Americans would fight tooth and nail.
In any case, both Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago showed very strong albeit very young teams in qualifying (T&T was 4-0-2 in their group and should have advanced over one-loss Guyana), the Dominican Republic and Haiti are beginning to make some noise and the hope is that in the very near future the Caribbean won't need a charity ticket to a tournament where they'd likely get their asses handed to them anyway.
After all the whole idea of qualifying is that you have to earn your way in.
(Some people have suggested that the real solution would be to move the North and Central American federations into Oceania, which has obvious pluses and minuses, but that also seems unlikely.)
Basically then, CONCACAF President Jeff Webb's mission is to try and keep the "cupcake" split rather than have to chance shady officiating and/or actual competition. Consider:
In 2006, CONCACAF split a half spot with the AFC and Trinidad & Tobago beat Bahrain by one on aggregate to get in, but in 2010 the Ticos got the CONMEBOL rep, Uruguay, and lost by a like margin in a road match about which the less said the better; suffice it to say that calling the result "controversial" would be something of an understatement.
And of course the Putos beat the living crap out of the All Whites last Fall 4-2 and 5-1 in a pair of games which weren't nearly that close; getting beat 3-1 on aggregate is nothing to be ashamed of and better luck next time but getting beaten by a ratio of 3-1 is, well, not at all promising.
The truth is of course that nobody in FIFA likes ceding that half spot to Oceania; it's a throw away that only serves to create a 1/2 slot bone to be fought over by the big dogs, but since they have their own little 11 member confederation, and thus 11 votes, giving them one more than CONMEBOL, (a place with actual football teams), it's a bone that has to be tossed to them along with $400,000 World Cup bonus shares plus $300,000 yearly FIFA stipends plus $700,000 GOAL grants for countries like Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tonga.
Still, it all boils down to backroom FIFA politics, an art at which Webb has proven rather adept. So much so in fact that he's quickly emerging as a possible successor to Blatter - Sepp himself has mentioned it (approvingly) - and his influence is quietly becoming as strong as Jack Warner's ever was, something which no one saw coming.
However that may be, in 2010 Warner hollered and yelled and pounded the ExCo meeting table demanding that CONCACAF get a full four spots and couldn't swing the vote - it was a big part of his falling out with Sepp, who refused to back him up - so it's unlikely that Webb will even bother. Not his style anyway. Just give him New Zealand every four years and he won't say boo even if his fourth place team can't close the deal.
Likewise, the South Americans can't be too unhappy about their 5.5 slot deal, first of all because for a confederation with only ten members to ask for more than that would be pretty churlish and since their playoff opponent was Asia - Uruguay dispatched Jordan 5-0 - they're not going to rock the boat either.
(And since host Brazil was an automatic qualifier this year, only four South American teams didn't make it to the finals. They've got no complaints)
Outside of the Western Hemisphere though, it's a different story.
It's no secret that votes from Asia (AFC) and Africa (CAF) are what keeps Sepp Blatter's wrinkly old ass in FIFA's top spot, and they both want another full World Cup slot., giving them 5 and 6 respectively.
Last Fall, Blatter wrote:
It cannot be that the European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup"
So it was again entirely political when Sepp wrote on FIFA's official website that, in regard to spots in the finals::
‘We need a new deal... The Africans are at a severe disadvantage and the same applies to the AFC. It cannot be that the regions are treated with such disdain.’
In both cases, but particularly with the AFC, it's not an easy case to make, considering that the team which would have filled that fifth spot from Asia this year was the Jordan, the side that got dusted in the play-in matches (see: Uruguay Stomps Us Into the Dust). So clearly it's not a case of Asia asking for another entry because they have so many excellent sides being closed out; rather it's a case of them wanting another member federation to get a free trip to a fun place.
Furthermore, in the only metric that seems to be relevant - how many of your teams got out of the first round? - the AFC was a perfect 0-4. If you're scoring at home (or even if you're alone) that means 0 % of Asia's entries got into the round of 16.
For the CAF it's less clear who their sixth team would have been because their qualification format was set up to produce five winners and five losers rather than placements based on total points, but if you had to guess you'd say either Egypt or Tunisia, who were rather easily beaten out by Ghana (7-3) and Cameroon (4-1) respectively.
(Just for the sake of comparison, two of the South American teams who didn't get in - Venezuela and Paraguay - were each ranked higher than either of the African sides who would have filled that sixth spot.)
But of course we all know the real deal here: this is FIFA, and who deserves World Cup spots isn't nearly as relevant as who has the votes to demand them, and since Sepp Blatter has already written off UEFA anyway, he wants the AFC and CAF to each get one more for Russia 2018, and his proposed donor is, of course, Europe.
Since I posited earlier that getting into the Round of 16 ought to be the measuring stick for who really belongs and who doesn't, let's look at the Brazil 2014 scorecard:
The AFC sent 4 teams and none (0%) advanced
The CAF sent 5 teams and 2 advanced (40%)
UEFA sent 13 teams and 6 advanced (46%)
CONCACAF sent 4 teams and 3 advanced (75%)
CONMEBOL sent 6 teams and 5 advanced (83%)
It's not "disdain" that keeps the CAF or AFC from bring home the FIFA World Cup trophy, it's that they're just not that good and it's hard to see what bringing in more AFC and CAF sides would accomplish.
While it's true that UEFA didn't send a significantly larger percentage of their teams through compared with the CAF, they would make the point that one reason for this is that most of the Groups had two Euro sides.
However that may be, it's also true that of the last four UEFA teams in - France, Portugal, Greece, Croatia - two of them made it into the Round of 16 while a third featured one of the biggest stars in the world. Not exactly scraping the bottom of the barrel.
In response to Blatter's blatant electioneering, UEFA President Michel Platini reacted with predictable outrage, pointing out that in reality he feels that Europe is actually UNDER represented.
It's interesting to note though that a couple years ago, before Seppy reneged on his promise not to run again and Platini himself was trying to line up support, he proposed enlarging the entire field to 40 teams.
Basically, he wanted to give UEFA one more spot, two each to the CAF and AFC, have CONCACAF and CONMEBOL "share" two somehow and let Oceania have their own dedicated spot.
This of course was NOT naked electioneering. He was NOT upping the ante on his old pal Sepp. No indeed. But since he's not running any more and no one really much likes the idea of expanding by eight teams anyway, no one has mentioned it in awhile.
With opening round qualifiers for Russia 2018 - on his way out of Rio Blatter told reporters that the biggest issue facing FIFA in the future is the fight against racism, but didn't say how he reconciled this stand with holding the next World Cup in the place with by far the worst record of in-stadium racism and antisemitism in all of football - scheduled for a little over a year from now, FIFA is going to have to figure it out and soon.
But if Blatter has to choose between getting re-elected and being fair to UEFA, well, there's not much question which way he'll go.
Which will then leave Europe with one more reason to jump ship on the whole deal, at which point the AFC and CAF can divvy up the extra 13 spots however they like.
But they still won't want Oceania to have one of them. After all, you have to have some standards.