FIFA Extraordinary General Meeting: Don’t Hold Your Breath.

The announcement today that Sepp Blatter has called an extraordinary general meeting of FIFA in Cape Town two days before the draw for the finals seems to be a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. The rather terse statement on runs as follows:

‘Due to recent events in the world of football, namely incidents at the play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africaâ„¢, match control (refereeing) and irregularities in the football betting market, the FIFA President has called an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee.’

OK, let’s go through this point by point. Presumably the ‘incidents’ include the stoning of the Algerian bus in Cairo before their playoff with Egypt, ‘match control’ must refer to Thierry Henry’s ‘goal’ versus Ireland and the ‘irregularities in the football betting market’ refers to the wave of arrests that have taken place in continental Europe over the past week or so. The first one is a World Cup issue and a World Cup connection is implied within the second issue so we’ll deal with them here: we’ll probably only discuss the third if it somehow becomes relevent to next summer.

The date of the meeting automatically rules out the prospect of some kind of Ireland v France rematch, but – as has been suggested elsewhere – it may mean that the experiment with two extra officials patrolling the goal lines that is taking part in the Europa League this season may be permanent next summer. If – and it’s a big if – the extra official had seen Henry’s handball, then the goal might not have been allowed; it remains to be seen if video technology might be considered, but when one of the corporate ‘partners’ is one of the world’s largest electronic manufacturers…well you get the picture. In HD where possible.

The bus stoning incident in Cairo was a pretty nasty one and both sides have blamed each other for it, but it was not the only problem during the qualifiers and certainly isn’t the first time that there’s been crowd trouble in Africa during qualifying competitions. Closer to home,  the Serbian FA were fined £26,700 (approximately $45,000 or 29,500 or so Euros) for trouble caused by their fans during their qualifiers and elements of our lunatic fringe will try their best to cause problems next summer. Apparently ‘street’ drinking is illegal in South Africa even though it is felt that the local police will ignore it for the duration of the finals; a horde of rampaging hooligans (or what might appear to be rampaging hooligans) in the middle of a country with an undeniably serious crime problem could be potentially catastrophic.

I really don’t want to come across as the voice of doom and I’d really like to think that the FIFA meeting might result in something positive, but quite what they’re going to do about an international superstar breaking Law 12 and getting away with it or how they expect to stop hooliganism by raising fines against national football associations is beyond me. Let’s see what they come up with…but don’t hold your breath.

Spurs 9, Wigan 1: Defoe Gets Five

1-0 at half time…9-1 after 90 minutes, with three of Jermain Defoe’s goals coming in seven minutes before the hour mark. I know it’s a while before Mr Capello announces the squad, but that’s exactly the kind of performance I’d want from one of my strikers.

The last FIFA rankings before the draw were published on Friday. If the groups were going to be decided purely on the rankings (and remember they won’t – has an extremely plausible theory here), here’s how the seeds would look:

1st ranked: Spain, Brazil, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France & Argentina

2nd ranked: England, Cameroon, Greece, USA, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Chile & Switzerland

3rd ranked: Uruguay, Serbia, Australia, Nigeria, Denmark, Algeria, Paraguay & Slovenia

4th ranked: Slovakia, Ghana, Honduras, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, North Korea & South Africa

Couple of things worth noting: South Africa are the lowest ranked team in the competition, so I would imagine that they would be automatically placed in Group 1 as team A1 so they can kick off their own tournament on June 11th at Soccer City in Johannesburg. I would also guess that because neither Holland & Portugal have ever won a major international tournament one of them might have to switch places with England. My guess would be Portugal, purely because they qualified via the playoffs, but FIFA are a law unto themselves and you never know what might happen.

We’ll definitely be covering the draw on 4th December via 11lionslive with instant reaction on twitter and analysis on the blog as soon as we’ve finished working out which teams will feature in next year’s Group Of Death.

Uruguay Claim 32nd Spot

The World Cup winners in 1930 and 1950 became the last team to qualify for South Africa 2010 thanks to a draw with Costa Rica at the Centenario in Montevideo. Substitute Sebastian Abreu – who plays for Aris Salonika in Greece put the hosts ahead 70 minutes but Costa Rica equalised when Deportivo Saprissa’s Walter Centeno scored four minutes later.

It’s the first time Uruguay have qualified since 2002: they lost to Australia at this stage in 2006. Their qualification means that we should see Atletico Madrid’s Diego Forlan in action next year.

So there we have it: all 32 qualifiers decided, with the group stage draw to be held in a couple of weeks. We’ll be looking at some of the possible permutations of the draw when the seedings are decided but here’s something to think about: in 1966, England’s group contained France, Mexico and Uruguay, all of whom will be present next year.

Still think we’ll get North Korea though…

Le Main d’Henry

The original headline for this piece was going to be ‘…And Then There Was One’ as in there’s only one place left in the finals: congratulations to Algeria, France, Greece, Portugal and Slovenia, all of whom have qualified before. The winner of Uruguay v Costa Rica (KO 11pm GMT) will claim the last place.

However, the evening’s events were overshadowed as Ireland were particularly unlucky after they lost to France, courtesy of a William Gallas goal featuring a blatant handball by Thierry Henry who ought to be absolutely ashamed of himself. France may have qualified but judged on their performance tonight they’ll be extremely lucky to get out of the group stages; I wonder if they’ll be drawn with Algeria. The referee was Martin Hansson of Sweden and it’ll be interesting to see if he makes it on to the officials list for the Finals.

An interesting bit of trivia to end with tonight: Algeria and Slovenia‘s winning goals were scored by Antar Yahia and Zlatko Dedic, both of whom play for VfL Bochum in the Bundesliga.

Algeria Through

The Desert Foxes (not making this up either) beat Egypt 1-0 with a first half goal from Anthar Yahia of Germany’s VfL Bochum. Last appeared in the finals in Mexico 86, where they drew with Northern Ireland but lost to Spain and Brazil.

Good luck to Ireland, who kick off in Paris in about 15 minutes. If you check out the ‘Latest Tweets’ section, we’ll have updates via Twitter…so you won’t have to log in. If you do, search for 11lions.

Egypt v Algeria: Winner Stays On

As a result of their dramatic 2-0 win on Saturday (the crucial second goal was scored in injury time), Egypt will meet Algeria for a third time on Wednesday in Sudan: whoever wins goes to South Africa. To describe this game as ‘a local rivalry’ is an understatement: the Algerian team bus was attacked at the weekend and both sides ending up blaming each other – the Algerians blamed Egyptians who had been wound up by satellite TV broadcasts (insert Fox News joke here), the Egyptians claimed that it was arranged by local Algerians to make them look bad.

So well done whichever genius at FIFA decided to arrange a playoff between two rivals who can’t stand each other in a country at war with itself governed by a regime that might be described as ‘dodgy at best’.

Naturally, we’ll have the result when it comes in; kick of is 5:30pm GMT.

Quick Round Up

New Zealand, Nigeria and Cameroon all joined the list of qualifiers today, whilst Russia, France and Portugal all won the first legs of their UEFA region playoff games. The only stalemate was the goalless draw in Athens between Greece and Ukraine; Costa Rica play Uruguay in the first leg of their playoff at 02:00 GMT on Sunday so we’ll have news of what happened in that one bright and early tomorrow morning. Finally for today, thanks for everyone that joined us for our initial live blog, which got underway a little later than planned – sorry about that!