The England team’s comfortable dispatching of San Marino on Friday night did little for the argument that minnows deserve to be in the main stage of European qualifying (Image |

Upon reading the title of this post, you may think that I’m going to talk about a certain Michel Platini’s comments regarding his desire to see the 2022 World Cup played in winter.

Platini, though, isn’t my target. I am going to discuss the fact that international football is becoming increasingly meaningless.

My dad reminds me that whenever an England squad is announced that not so long ago, a player had to be among the select group of best players in England’s top flight to be called up to the national team. And although he does not necessarily disagree with giving young players a chance to show their worth in friendlies, he, like me, believes that international football needs a major reshuffle.

But where is the current set-up failing the international game?

One of the main problems is international friendlies. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence, but a vast number of pointless friendlies were played by England in the run-up to the voting for the hosts of the 2018 World Cup. Meanwhile, the other home nations were taking part in a Home Championships-esque event. But at least we could give Jay Bothroyd a cap – for coming on as a late substitute against France.

England are giving caps away like they actually want to give them for free. For example, Jermaine Defoe has 51 England caps. Now, I do like Jermaine Defoe, but with that total he has surpassed Geoff Hurst, Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles, all members of the World Cup winning team of 1966.

Jermain Defoe has amassed 51 caps for England without ever being considered a first-team fixture – is he the prime example of international football’s over-crowded fixture list? (Image | Sky Sports)

It is stats like this which gave me the idea for the invention of ‘half-caps’, which would be awarded for playing 90 minutes in a friendly.However, there is another problem involved with internationals becoming less prestigious, the root of which can be found in tournament qualifying rounds.

When England get drawn into their group for World Cup or European Championships, there are always minnows in the Three Lions group. This time it’s Moldova and San Marino. And the game that follows is always painful to watch as players like Darren Bent score a few goals in a simple 5-0 win.

But this problem is a hard one to address, because you don’t want to make it impossible for the small teams in question to get to the World Cup or Euros.

One solution to this would be to have separate qualifying groups for teams who are under a certain FIFA ranking, from which one or two teams qualify to compete in the full qualifying groups with the higher ranked nations. There are ample examples for UEFA to take their leads from – the Asian, Oceanian and CONCACAF qualifying tournaments all use multiple stages to filter out their continental also-rans before the major teams enter the field.

This would certainly eliminate the problem of pointless qualifiers, but could it end up eliminating small teams from major tournaments? While a simple one-round group setup does little for the likes of San Marino, they’d be even less likely to get through a straight knock-out against a middling European side – say Belarus or Denmark – and would never get to play the marquee games at all. Like I said, it’s a tough subject to address.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

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