Friday, August 28, 2009

World Cup Staple: Qualifier Roster Debates

This concept is a bit difficult for someone from the United States to grasp, but it is a staple of the World Cup qualifying process.

The national team roster debates.

Why is this guy on the team? Why isn't that guy?

This is madness! No, it makes perfect sense!

This is the stuff of endless discussion among fans and journalists in the serious soccer countries, and the debates are heating up right this minute, as more and more federations announce their training rosters ahead of the qualifiers coming up Sept. 5-0. A critical period for teams in Europe, Africa and the Americas ... because the end of the qualifying process is in sight.

France is a good example of the angst surrounding the process.

France coach Raymond Domenech has announced a roster that includes veteran forward Thierry Henry -- some say aging, past-his-prime Thierry Henry -- ahead of France's key qualifying matches against Romania (Sept. 5) and at Serbia (Sept. 9).

However, another veteran some like and some detest -- Patrick Vieira -- has not been called in.

And the vitriol is flowing.

Not that this is a key moment, or anything, for France and its campaign, but it sits second in the European Group 7 standings with four matches to play. If it wins its next two matches, it could lead the group -- and winning a group means direct qualification to South Africa 2010. Or a pair of defeats could leave it hopeless of winning the group and worried about just hanging on to second place and getting into the home-and-home playoff with some other second-place team.

Around the planet, journalists are putting the national team selections in prominent places in newspapers and giving their own opinions. These are genuine national debates rivaling almost anything going on in politics or business in any given country.

This is a bit difficult to grasp in a country such as the United States, which has some world-class talent, but not a whole lot of it.

That is, you could put a dozen U.S. fans, coaches and journalists in a room, ask them to pick, independently, the 23-25 guys they want to call in for training ahead of a qualifier, and everyone in the room would have essentially the same list.

But in a country like France, which has hundreds of players on major club rosters and has thousands more who believe they ought to be ... the team selection is a contentious business.

This is part of what makes South Africa 2010 -- or any World Cup -- fun. The passionate debate. The fervor of it all. The absolute certainty in the mind of the Man in the Street that the national coach has botched it all again.

Let the arguments begin!

And here is the rest of it.

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