Friday, June 04, 2004


The Proper Use of Force

New Zealand 10, Tahiti 0. After my entry yesterday, you would think that I’d be outraged by the scoreline. I’m not, because I understand the reason behind it. The Kiwis were tied for third place in the Oceania World Cup qualifying table heading into the match (their next-to-last of the campaign, and the first one of the matchday in Adelaide) and need to finish second in order to advance to a two-leg playoff with Australia for the confederation’s place in a tie against CONMEBOL’s fifth-place team for the right to play in the 2006 World Cup Finals (try saying that quickly a few times). Because they will be tied with the Solomon Islands for second place at nine points (the Solomons have nine heading into their final group match against Australia), goal differential (goals scored minus goals allowed) will be used to determine the qualifier. The ten-spot hung by the All Whites on the Tahitians has settled that argument (supposing 1-0 results for New Zealand and Australia, the Kiwis will advance with a GD of +11 with the Solomons’ GD being +2), which is why I believe it was a proper use of force.

I return to the United States’ 7-0 win over Barbados in 2000 as a prime example of being forceful with purpose. The Yanks were sitting on one point and in last place of their semifinal group after their first two qualifiers. From that position, the likelihood of finishing tied for second was substantial. Therefore, putting up a big number on the group’s perceived minnow when no one in the group had done so (the Ticos LOST 2-1 to the Bajans on Matchday 1 and the Guatemalans beat them 2-0 on Matchday 2) would give them the key tiebreaker should it be needed.

When groups are used in qualifying, sometimes a team has to put up a lopsided scoreline to take control of the goal differential tiebreaker. Even in those cases, it usually takes only one such score to accomplish the mission (now if all sides are racking up the goals against a weak sister, such as a three-legged playoff involving the US, Mexico, and Belize, then it’s another story). What Frank Farina did in Oceania qualifying the last go-around was downright despicable and unsporting. What Mick Waitt did today, and what Bruce did in 2000, was necessary and proper. In two-leg qualifying playoffs, there is absolutely NO reason to pile it on once the overall result has been determined. As such, there should NEVER be a run-up in the second leg of a tie and only enough of one in the first leg to make the second leg moot. I will interested in seeing what the behemoths of CONCACAF do in their qualifying playoffs, for there is such a thing as winning big with honor and grace.

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