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We’re in that sad World Cup stretch when there are no longer games every day, and you can count the matches left using your fingers. It’s horrible. So to pass the time, let’s talk about a couple of Cup-related topics, shall we?

Know Your Role…

As usual around this time, there’s already a lot of talk about the fairness of the qualification system for Russia 2018. Most complaints focus on the over-representation of some regions (Europe and South America) over others (Asia and Africa). FIFA President Sepp Blatter wants to take spots away from the two traditional powers (taking South America down to four spots) and give them to the new kids. Michel Platini, head of UEFA, wants to expand the tournament instead, to 40 teams. Four years ago South America’s berths were reduced to 4 (plus one for Brazil as host), only for a last-minute compromise to come together in which Asia agreed to share its fifth spot via a playoff. Sorry, Jordan. El Bolso is tired of the bickering, so I’ve come up with a plan to revamp the FIFA qualifiers.

Let’s get the obvious conflict of interest out of the way: as a born and raised Uruguayan, I can’t support any attempts to minimize South America’s presence in the Cup. La Celeste has been to the final qualifying playoffs for four straight Cups, winning three of them. Before that, they missed four of the previous six tournaments. So let’s just put that on the table. At the same time, I do support the inclusion of more teams from lesser soccer areas and love seeing underdogs in the World Cup. So what’s an Uruguayo to do?

Let’s start by keeping the number of teams at 32. I don’t know what the Platini plan looks like for the Cup bracket. Do you just add a team to the current eight groups? Someone’s going to be watching the last round of games at the training facility, which will lead to accusations of shadiness, I guarantee it. Do we have ten groups of four, with only the group winners and six second place teams moving on? That sounds complicated and leads to comparing team performance against disparate opponents. Do we qualify 20 teams to the knockout stage and fix the mess there? No. Let’s just stick with 32.

Let’s give the host a spot. They’ve spent gajillions of dollars and handed full control of their nation to FIFA for a month. They have a lot of work to do building stadiums, squashing public protests, and forcibly removing tens of thousands of poor people to make room for World Cup schwag. They get a spot. If there are two or more co-hosts (hello, gorgeous!), put their heads of state in a WWE steel cage and let them fight to the death for the berth. (31 remaining)

It costs money to buy all those horse face shields, people (Getty Images). 

No spot for the previous champion. If you want to defend your title, qualify like everyone else.

Cut Europe’s total spots down to 12. This represents a loss of one spot. That’s 12 out of 53 total countries. Trust me; it’s a pretty good deal. (19 remaining)

Merge all the Americas nations into one confederation and give them 8 spots. Look, it’s pretty ridiculous that half of the South American countries get to be in the World Cup, but once they’re there they play like they belong. Also, what’s with the arbitrary distinction? I know this happened because CONCACAF countries only learned how to play soccer in 1979. They’re up to speed now, and it’s time Mexico and the US started earning their berths against real competition. Let’s mash the whole thing up into one huge latin-flavored power base. If Canada doesn’t like it they can pull an Australia and join UEFA. (11 spots remaining)

Increase Africa’s spots to 6. Yes, I know no African team has ever made the semifinals; my boys had a lot to do with that last time around. African teams tend to hold their own in the tournament, earning a couple of second round berths and the occasional quarterfinal spot. And even when they don’t make it, they can make those European and South American big boys sweat. Look at what Nigeria and Algeria did to France and Germany last week, for example; Africa can handle one more spot. (5 remaining)

Merge Asia and Oceania and give them the last 5 spots. Asia, I know you host over half of the world’s population; maybe you should try teaching them how to play the sport well. Four years ago we heard a lot of complaining about Asia not getting a fifth spot outright, and look what happened: Jordan was steamrolled by Uruguay in the playoff, and the four teams that did qualify earned a grand total of 3 points in the group stage. All four came in last in their respective groups. Still, I’m giving them an extra spot so long as they agree to take in New Zealand and the rest of Oceania. I don’t even know why that region even exists, other than to cut down on air travel costs. It used to be Australia’s shortcut to the intercontinental playoff, but then the Aussies jumped ship to the Asian confederation. Everyone else should join suit.

So that’s my plan; you’re welcome. Get it done, FIFA.

Bizarre Love Triangle

Apparently, the Belgians aren’t the US-crushing, happy family they pretend to be! There’s some bad blood within the team (although they claim it’s all resolved), and it stems from keeper Thibaut Courtois’s involvement in what was dubbed the Chelsea Love Triangle by the tabloids. No, I’m not talking about the Champions League mess, where Chelsea loaned him to Barcelona for the season then had second thoughts when the two teams faced off for a spot in the semifinals. I’m talking about Belgian’s starting keeper going behind second round hero Kevin De Bruyne’s back and stealing his girl while the two players were loaned out by Chelsea his past season. Courtois was, as we know, in Atlético Madrid, while De Bruyne spent a season in Germany playing for Werder Bremen. Mrs. De Bruyne didn’t take well to the Bremen winter, so she moved to Madrid and soon ended up in a fling with Courtois. They claim it’s all been settled and both players are fully focused on the World Cup, but what the hell Thibaut? It’s like that scene in Strictly Ballroom when Ric Flair ends up drinking champagne in the hot tub with Scott’s dance partner.

I’m a stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ Belgian! (Getty Images)

 

Also, if you’re in Germany and your significant other decides to move to Madrid, it’s not going to end well. That’s an advanced romance tip from El Bolso, kids.

My, my, my…

I was enjoying dinner with the family earlier this evening at our local Chinese restaurant, which also happens to make GREAT rum drinks. Anyway, I happened to bite into one of those little red hot peppers by mistake, and spent the next ten minutes gulping down plum sauce and coughing uncontrollably while my insides melted. After that I examined every piece of Szechuan chicken as if I was in charge of secondary screening at the airport. Mrs. El Bolso asked what was going on, and I said: “once bitten, twice shy.” And for the next 15 minutes, there was an impromptu Great White concert in my brain.

And now there’s one in yours. Enjoy the games!

El Bolso

About El Bolso

El Bolso is Uruguay’s foremost soccer-fan-in-exile, a true authority on the Celeste and its favored son, the Club Nacional de Football. He believes in precision passing, tireless marking, and strong finishing, and is not above the occasional slide tackle from behind when the situation calls for it.

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