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World Cup 2018

World Cup Qualifying’s need for change

The Boot Room

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Last week, all European nations found out who they would be facing during the qualifying phase for the World Cup in 2018 with a draw in St Petersburg. In addition to this, South American qualifying was drawn, as were various stages of the Oceania, Africa and CONCACAF (North & Central America) qualification phases.

The real question though, is what was the point of the ceremony? Some continents have already started their qualifying whilst the first European qualifier is still over 12 months away. It seems ridiculous to rank teams for the draw that long before they will be qualifying whilst some teams have already faced qualifiers before the big, glitzy, official event. The Oceania, Africa and CONCACAF draws were messy due to their complex formats while the South American section involved putting 10 teams in a pot just to pull them all out again, with the only meaningful outcome the decision on fixture order. It would make much more sense for each governing body to do their own draws on a need to basis at their own headquarters, saving the cost and travel required for everyone to travel to St Petersburg.

Everybody knows football costs are escalating, but is it any wonder when the governing body is willing to splash out on a lavish ceremony that quite simply isn’t required. Of course, when it comes to FIFA and money, holding a draw ceremony is hardly a big problem in the grand scheme of things, but is another change that the incoming president – assuming Sepp Blatter does stand down as claimed – should be looking to make.

The draw itself did throw up some interesting ties in Europe. Just the group winners will automatically qualify for 2018, in stark contrast to the current Euro 2016 qualifying when a third place finish might be good enough to get to France. It means either Spain or Italy face the prospect of a playoff tie, as do one of France and The Netherlands, whilst lesser fancied teams could face a more straightforward passage.  However, some of the groups have familiar looks to them with England facing Slovenia and Lithuania, two sides also in their Euro 2016 qualifying group. With International attendances suffering as the club game continues to grow, FIFA need to implement measures to avoid this repetitiveness. Ensuring teams avoid each other during each four year cycle would always give fans the opportunity to see new teams and new players, something that should stimulate interest. Even in England where international games are still popular, many fans would struggle to justify paying the extortionate ticket prices to see Lithuania twice in as many years.

A World Cup should also involve countries from all parts of the globe, especially the World Cup for the planet’s most popular sport. However, the winner from Oceania will face a play-off against the fifth placed team in South American qualifying. South America is blessed with talent at the moment with the past two Copa America winners Uruguay and Chile alongside usual powerhouses Brazil and Argentina. Columbia, with star man James Rodriguez, reached the quarter finals in 2014 whilst Paraguay matched that feat in South Africa four years before. The chances are, Oceania will be without a representative when 2018 rolls around.

James Rodriguez announced his arrival on the world stage with a series of stellar performances for Colombia during Brazil 2014.

The World Cup is one of the greatest shows on the planet and naturally benefits from having the best players and best teams there. However, the only way football is going to grow in Oceania is by giving their countries exposure to it on the biggest stage. Whilst the qualifier is unlikely to do much damage at the tournament, neither is the fifth best team from South America as there are already four teams better than them on their continent alone, without taking into account that Europe has provided the last 3 winners.

Qualifying is already underway across much of the world with 25 teams already being knocked out in Oceania, Africa and Asia. In Europe though, the World Cup will take a back seat as Euro 2016 qualifiers restart in the autumn before the tournament itself next summer. The questionable draw procedure raises the prospect of a World Cup top seed crashing out in the early stages in France, or not even making the tournament with nearly half of qualifying still remaining. Equally possible is a third or fourth seed making a serious mark on the tournament and making a mockery of the ranking system used. Poland, currently top of Germany’s group after a victory against their neighbours last October but were only seeded in pot 3 last Saturday. What is to say a team that beat the World Champions cannot win the European Championships? For football’s sake, let’s hope this doesn’t happen and following next summer’s tournament the groups resemble a sensible line up. Although, maybe it would force a rethink among the powers that be to create a fairer system for all involved, because World Cup Qualifying is in need of a revamp.

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Manchester United

Chicharito shows he’s capable of replacing Marko Arnautovic at West Ham in brilliant Mexico performance

The striker was unrecognisable from last season at West Ham.

Jamie Watts

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West Ham United striker Marko Arnautovic is still heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, although the club have attempted to deter interest by slapping a whopping £60 million price tag on the Austrian, according to the Daily Star.

Although the price is considerable, it’s conceivable United could match the fee, or something close and Manuel Pellegrini may have to begin lining up replacements, in case a switch to Old Trafford materialises. But the Chilean coach may very well have his man already on yesterday’s evidence, ironically, in the form of former United fan favourite, Chicharito.

Photo: Getty Images

Chicharito made a name for himself throughout his career for his impressive ability to improvise a finish in the penalty area, and his movement, which has led to countless poacher goals. However, his performance for Mexico yesterday could indicate a change of responsibilities for the striker in the future. And West Ham will be thrilled.

Against Germany, he did everything but put the ball away. Non-initiated viewers may have been shocked to find out that the striker went into the match one goal off a career tally of 50 for his country, as he plied for the 90 minutes as a forward linch-pin, connecting play in the final third for almost every counter-attack. His general touch, awareness of approaching defenders, vision to see runners and execution of passes were all sensational on the night.

Photo: Getty Images

It could be argued that his national pride conjured this new style. but now there can be no doubting he has the ability to play the Arnautovic-type role, and in emphatic fashion. And if Pellegrini can tap-into this style, he could already have the Austrian’s ready made replacement at the London Stadium.

Last term the 30-year-old struggled to break into the team on a regular basis under David Moyes, making 33 appearances in all competitions, bagging eight goals and an assist, but his contribution next year could be far more valuable.

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Everton

Mexico prodigy Hirving Lozano shows he’s the man to bolster Everton supply-line next term

Hirving Lozano will have increased his demand after yesterday’s sensational display.

Jamie Watts

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PSV forward Hirving Lozano became a hero for his country yersterday, as Mexico ran out 1-0 victors over defending World Cup champions Germany thanks to his 35th minute goal, and Everton fans will have been watching closely.

The Merseyside outfit are keen on striking a deal for the 22-year-old prodigy, reported the Liverpool Echo this month, with PSV director Marcel Brands joining the Blues from the Dutch giants this window.

Interest was already notable from Everton this summer, and it will only intensify after the starlet’s performance at the highest level. Lozano punished a strangely languid Germany side after numerous warnings on the counter – as Joshua Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt raided forward constantly – sending the stadium into raptures, with a brilliant solo goal. And it would prove to be decisive, as Mexico failed to capitalise on a plethora opportunities to put the game to bed.

Photo: Getty Images

Initial concerns over the forward were regarding his previous experience, having plied his trade in the Mexican league and now the Eredivisie, which with all due respect, are both a different kettle of fish from the Premier League. But he truly proved his metal yesterday.

Lozano’s 19 goals and 11 assists last term bode well for his future, but his biggest statement undoubtedly came against Germany, and the world’s eyes will now be transfixed on him in their next clash against South Korea on Saturday.

Photo: Getty Images

Toffees fans bemoaned the pragmatic style of football under Sam Allardyce last term, having finished 19th for number of shots registered, shots on target and chances created in England’s top tier, highlighting the need for creative players this summer, and Lozano would go a long-way towards solving the problem.

Marco Silva is likely to persist with Cenk Tosun next term, as his Champions League pedigree dovetails with owner Farhad Moshiri’s desire to for European football in the near future, and the Turk’s impact could become doubled along-side the creative Mexican.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle United should rekindle Miguel Layun interest after stunning World Cup performance

The 29-year-old was wanted by Newcastle last summer.

Mathew Nash

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Mexico caused a World Cup shock yesterday, defeating reigning champions Germany 1-0 in Moscow. It was a fantastic performance by El Tri, who decimated the world champions with a fearsome display of counter-attacking football.

There were many performances that caught the eye, with Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano and Hector Herrera all outstanding. But former Watford man Miguel Layun also put in a tremendous display.

It was one which will hopefully see Newcastle United rekindle their efforts to sign him.

Playing on the right-hand side of midfield he was a constant thorn in the side of Marvin Plattenhardt for Germany. Meanwhile, his impressive ability to work up and down the pitch the entire game left Julian Draxler completely nullified.

(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

Currently contracted to Porto he spent the second half of last season with Sevilla, who have a permanent deal lined up. However, last summer saw Newcastle linked with a move for the player.

Valued at £6 million, Rafa Benitez is reportedly a fan and wanted him to help their survival hopes last term- as reported by Record, among others. No deal ever came off but 12 months down the line Newcastle should try again.

Layun proved against Germany just how impressive an athlete he is. The 29-year-old is also extremely versatile. Capable at both left and right-back, on either wing or even in central midfield he would solve many problems for Newcastle United.

With Sevilla dawdling over a permanent deal for the Mexican the Magpies should consider coming knocking once again.

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