In Euro 2016 qualifications this week many story lines came out. Harry Kane scored his first senior goal for England, the Netherlands continue to struggle with a 1-1 draw to Turkey and Russian keeper Igor Akinfeev had a flair thrown at his head in Montenegro.
However, it's the 6-1 drubbing of Gibraltar by Scotland that has brought back some old talking points.
The game between Gibraltar and Scotland featured a hat-trick from Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher, as well as Gibraltar's first ever UEFA qualification goal. The fact that Scotland put 6 past Gibraltar is incredible. But in their 5 qualification matches Gibraltar have conceded 27 goals. The margin in which they lose brings up arguments made months ago about UEFAs qualification process.
In January of 2014 The Guardian's Daniel Taylor wrote that UEFA should raise the standard of the tournament with pre-qualifications for nations such as Gibraltar. Including these nations cheapens qualification by essentially having, for all-intents-and-purposes, already won games.
These nations are simply seen as some sort of goal difference buffer and thus should be relegated to a form of pre-qualification in order to reach superior opposition. Nations such as Scotland, are just too big for these nations to play and are essentially wasting their time getting a guaranteed three points and an inflated goal difference.
To be fair there is some truth in the argument. Neither Andora, Gibraltar, Malta or San Marino pose any sort of threat in the qualification process. Each of the aforementioned national teams are at the bottom of their respective groups. Their combined record stands at 0-2-18 with a -65 goal difference in qualification for the tournament in France.
Weeding Out The Weak
Pre-qualification would in essence limit the number of fodder nations in the latter stages of qualification by making them play each other. Effectively weeding out the the worst of the worst. In turn the qualification pool, after pre-qualification, would be much stronger and thus more competitive. No more easy 3 points.
But pre-qualification would also fly in the face of UEFAs expansion of the tournament. In 2016 the Euro will grow from a 16 team tournament to a 24 team tournament. By expanding the size of the tournament UEFA has inevitably given hope to weaker nations of qualifying for the prestigious continental tournament. Meaning that marginalizing the smaller nations with pre-qualification may be off the table.
Never-the-less it cannot be argued that having such nations as San Marino or Gibraltar participate in the qualification process dilutes the process for the viewer. Seeing a side routinely outclassed will never be entertaining. UEFA have to find a way for qualifiers to matter.
What do you think UEFA should do to increase the appeal of pre-tournament international football? Do you think smaller nations should have to go through pre-qualifications? Have you say in the comments below.
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