After a weekend of surprising World Cup Qualifying results in Europe and South America, two of the planet’s biggest players are in danger of missing out on the big party next summer.
In my opinion, if Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo do miss out on the festivities in South Africa, the World Cup will be severely diminished by their absence, both in terms of star power and the economics that they drive.
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If I was FIFA president Sepp Blatter, I’d be getting on the phone pretty sharpish and having a quiet one with the respective coaches, Diego Maradona and Carlos Queiroz. ‘Excuse me gentlemen. I know you’re under a little bit of pressure but would you mind purchasing the required paddle and getting your teams well away from this foul-smelling creek. You’re about to ruin my World Cup.’
What the Swiss supremo may wish for, if both countries do the unthinkable, is hope that a Roberto Rojas moment occurs in their respective qualifying groups. You may remember that Rojas was the Chilean goalkeeper who was ‘injured’ by a flare thrown onto the field during a World Cup qualifier against Brazil, leading to the match being abandoned. A subsequent investigation by FIFA revealed the ‘keeper had cut himself with a razor and led to Chile being banned from World Cup ’94.
The Finals have missed stars before. George Best and Johan Cruyff come to mind but the world has never been deprived of the two shining faces of football on the biggest stage. UEFA boss, Michel Platini must be praying for a Champions League showdown between Barcelona and Real Madrid in May and a non-too subtle ‘Take that Blatter!’
Both Portugal and Argentina have three matches left each in which to climb out of this royal mess, a mess that would devastate both nations’ football psyches because this is seriously twitchy-bum-time in Lisbon and Buenos Aries.
Portugal look to have the tougher task and unless they can do a double on Hungary, even a play-off berth is nothing more than a pipe dream. Honestly though, who hires a number two to be a number one. Queiroz was out of his depth when coaching the New York Red Bulls (then the Metrostars), let a lone a team that is a perennial contender for the last eight, if not last four of major competitions. A man’s got to know his limitations!
Argentina, led by Diego Maradona who has no limitations, at least have destiny firmly in their hands. They currently reside in fourth, which will see them through to South Africa. However, after getting shelled by Brazil, morale is shot. With away trips to Paraguay and Uruguay and a home game against Peru sandwiched in between it means that the unthinkable could still happen.
Maradona proves that once again being a great player doesn’t mean beans when it comes to coaching. He is simply not up to the task of leading this team and it’s to the shame of the Argentine Football Association that they went with a martyr instead of a footballing brain.
Back to the two players in question, Ronaldo and Messi. I think that it is vital to the advancement of football that they parade their skills on the big stage. In their absence all World Cup advertisements would have to come with a disclaimer: ‘The World Cup Finals – bringing the planet’s second best footballers to a screen near you’ or ‘Catch the best footballers in the world, they’ll have their feet up in Lisbon and Buenos Aries!’
Obviously in their absence, two other players may take their shot at being acknowledged as the best but come on, this is the time where individuals stake their claim at immortal footballing greatness.
Until you’ve conquered the world, you’re just another good player.
Until then, I’ll see you at the far post.
Fox Soccer Channel’s Nick Websterwrites about English soccer for FOXSoccer.com, and contributes his blogto interact with his fans.