by Jerry Keys
Earlier this month we enjoyed a surprising rise of interest in women's soccer. Unlike the U.S. men's team, the women's team has experienced a marked degree of success. They returned to the Cup championship and held decisive 1-0 and 2-1 leads only to see each vanquished by eventual winner, Japan. Japan claimed their first Cup after a victorious penalty kick round. The men's Cup action will not begin until 2014, but qualifications have already begun.
The North, Central American and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) division initiated play last month. The '14 qualification takes on a different look as '10. In 2010, three teams received a bye to the second round. This tournament allows six teams to collect a bye through rounds one and two. The three countries who obtained a bye in '10 qualification did as well for '14; United States, Mexico and Costa Rica. The three additional teams are Honduras, Jamaica and Cuba.
35 teams qualify for the CONCACAF tourney. Round one pits countries ranked #26-35. Nineteen teams enter the tourney for Round two. These ranked teams, added with the five victorious Round one teams will be placed in six groups of four. The winner of each of these groups will advance to Round three. The third round will consist of three groups of four with the winner of the three groups and the runner-up promoted to the final round.
The three top teams from final round action will see '14 Cup play. The fourth place finisher will enter into a four-team playoff with three other divisions, with two advancing to Cup action. The final spots will be decided between the 4th place CONCACAF, AFC's (Asia) 5th place, CONMEBOL's (South America) 5th place and OFC's (Oceania) 1st place. In '10 Cup qualifying, 4th place Cost Rica (CONCACAF) lost to South America's 5th place Uruguay.
UEFA (Europe) will send thirteen teams and CAF (Africa) five. CONCACAF is merited three, AFC four, CONMEBOL four, and OFC either zero or one. Brazil is guaranteed entry for being the host country. The four teams who will participate in the play-off will be determined at a later date.
The UEFA will start out with a field of 53 teams. The division will be eight groups of six and a ninth group of five. The nine division winners will advance to Cup action while the runner-up in the eight groups of six will face off as the four winners also qualify. UEFA action will begin in September 2012. The CAF will begin with 52 teams. The bottom 24 teams (#29-52) will battle with the 12 winners advancing. The teams in the CAF ranked #1-28 and the 12 winners will be separated into ten groups of four for the second round. The first place team in each group will move on to Round 3 where the ten teams will face off with the five victors receiving a Cup spot. CAF games will begin in November 2011.
With Brazil already qualifying, the CONMEBOL's nine remaining teams vie for four Cup spots and the 5th place team to participate in the four-team play-off with other conferences. Six teams from South America could see Cup action. CONMEBOL games will start in October 2011. The AFC has 42 participants and pitted teams ranked #28-43 (earlier this year) with the eight victors advancing to Round 2. The second round will be concluded on July 28th where teams ranked #6-27 and the eight Round 1 winners will face off. The fifteen winners of the second round and the teams ranked #1-5 will advance to third round action. The 20 teams will be selected into five groups of four teams. The winner and runner-up of each group will move to Round 4. The fourth round will consist of two groups of five, with the top two teams in each group earning a Cup berth. The 3rd place team from each group will square off to decide who will be deemed the 5th seed. The 5th place team will advance to the four-team playoff.
The OFC will send only 11 teams into Cup qualification. The bottom four seeds, #8-11, will form Round 1 play, with the top team moving to Round 2. Second round action will present two groups of four teams. The winner and runner-up will form Round 3. The victor of the OFC's final round will advance to the four-team playoff. First round action begins in August 2011. The latest FIFA world rankings are as follows: 1-Spain, 2-Netherlands, 3-Germany, 4-Brazil, 5-Uruguay, 6-England, 7-Portugal, 8-Italy, 9-Croatia, 10-Argentina. The United States fell to #30. FIFA stated there are 175 teams who are in qualifications for '14 Cup action (the editor hypothesizes this number does not include countries already eliminated due to the total of 203 before any games took place).
This past weekend saw two players, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar, enter the Hall of Fame. Also inducted was the architect of the Toronto Blue Jays 1992 and 1993 World Series triumphs and the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 championship, Pat Gillick. Gillick spent most of his years as general manager with Toronto (1978-1994) and had short stints with Baltimore (1996-98), Seattle (2000-03) and Philadelphia (2006-08). While each team enjoyed post-season action during his tenure (and Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle suffering a decline in the standings after his departure), in my opinion Gillick was the fore-runner to buying World Series titles and "renting" superstars who were in the final year(s) of their current contract. Although it has since put a strain on baseball's 'balance of power,' I must admit he provided the results he was expected to.
Next year's first time entries are considered weak, as none are expected to come anywhere near ballot nomination. The 2013 Class is where a lot of current questions will be answered. If the Steroid Era was never known, it would present a Class to rival 1999's (Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount and Carlton Fisk - who was not a '99er but made it the next year). The 2013 Class headliners are: Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa. Before the steroid scandal, each player had a legitimate argument for 1st year enshrinement.