Sunday, 27 July 2014

Paul Theroux's Happy Isles of Oceania: The Joys and Pitfalls of Rereading Books

In recent years I've discovered the pleasure of rereading books. This is a little different from my somewhat obsessive rereads of The Lord of the Rings before each of the movies came out (which reminds me - it's been a while since I read LotR...) - that was to try and get an idea of what I'd be seeing in the movies, but now it's to revisit books that I loved earlier in my life.

I guess it's nostalgia - while in the midst of my latest re-read (The Happy Isles of Oceania, by Paul Theroux), I kept thinking back to where I was the first time I read it, rather than the last time. I bought the book in 2002, if memory serves, while in a generalized race to buy as many interesting travel books as I could find. I picked up three of Theroux's mid-period travelogues, Bill Bryson's early jaunts through the US, Europe and Britain, and borrowed the rest from various libraries. Even back then, of course, I was rereading books - I think I polished off The Great Railway Bazaar three times in the nearly three years I had access to the Southend Library.

The point here is that it's true what they say - a book you reread at 35 is different from the book you read for the first time at 25. You notice different things, or you notice the same things but with a subtly different perspective. For instance, when I reread Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country (or Down Under, for UK readers), I was struck by how well I recognized his description of Circular Quay, in Sydney, because I'd been there since the last time I'd read the book.

There isn't as much of that with Theroux's book, partly because he allots fewer pages to Australia than Bryson did, and because he experienced different sides of the place than Bryson. Theroux's first marriage had just broken up when he arrived down under, and it colored his experience of the people, in addition to driving him to different spots. I think that's also the reason that Theroux is so scathing about the Australians, attributing to them a sort of bungaloid (one of his favorite words) feral-ness that, if I'm honest, I recognize more in the English. Insults veiled as "being matey", for example, figure prominently in Theroux's description of Australians, whereas I always found the English more likely to do that to me.

The other interesting difference between the two narratives is how the Australians see their convict past - while Bryson tells of feeling the temperature in the room drop when he makes a joke about it, Theroux claims that the Australians revel in it. It comes off a bit like a Victorian gentleman finding himself plopped unaccountably in a rough East End hostelry.

Part of the difference, of course, must be attributable to when the two writers visited. Theroux was there in the run-up to the Gulf War in 1991, while Bryson went at the end of the 90s. Australia's a pretty fast-evolving country, so it's not unthinkable that general attitudes toward their own past would have changed significantly.

Another thing that fascinated me on this latest re-read of Happy Isles was Theroux's preoccupation with the Japanese. Everywhere he goes in the Pacific he sees evidence of what he calls "Nipponization" - island resorts built to cater exclusively to the newly ascendant Japanese, whom (at the time) everyone thought were trying to conquer the world by buying it all up.

In fairness, Theroux in his book does also decry the Americanization and Frenchification of certain other parts of the Pacific: American Samoa is presented as a welfare state, ruined by spam and Rambo movies (it's interesting how many times he refers to Rambo throughout the book), while his thoughts on Tahiti are a way to present how French foreign and colonial policy is as arrogant, short-sighted and disgusting as anything the US, or Russia, or anyone else can muster.

But the Japanese bear the brunt of his distaste, and at times in language that spills into overt racism. In the Solomon Islands he gets a permit from a cabinet minister (who incidentally became Prime Minister a few years later) to visit another island, and to ingratiate himself describes the Japanese in the following terms:
"... it is a one-race, one-language, one-family island of desperate overachievers who have a fascist belief in their own racial superiority... These little people have a palpitating need to dominate the rest of the world and will do anything at all to sell their stuff."
He goes on to suggest that they're cheating the Solomon Islanders (which may very well have been accurate). It's true that the Japanese have a pretty insular and self-involved way of defining the world - but I don't see it as any different from how the Chinese, the Russians, Americans or Europeans see the world. Me nambawan, uddapela nambaten. The Japanese, to my knowledge, haven't destabilized countries and let in murderous dictators, all in the name of preserving free market capitalism - in marked contrast to the United States (just ask Chile). At least, not since WWII.

What really bugs me is the "little people" comment, and the portrayal of the Japanese in other sections as these alien creatures goggling at everything through a camera lens. There's almost a feeling that anybody else taking over and building these "Nipponized" resorts and goggling at topless white women  on Australian beaches would be okay, as long as it isn't the Japanese. Later on in that screed he calls them frugal savers, and says their banks are the richest in the world. Again, could be strictly true - but it's couched in terms that sound a lot like anti-Semitism.

I understand that certain segments of the American populace felt threatened by the Japanese at the time, and I sympathize with folks like Detroit auto-workers - although not with the Big Three carmakers, because the Japanese car industry beat ours because they were building better cars than us, pure and simple. I'm just surprised by how vehemently Theroux, who at the time was likely a Democrat, talks about how the Japanese are ruining the Pacific (he seems to have turned into a crank now, though, railing against Obamacare, bizarrely).

It's a shame that he kept those passages in the book, because by the end of the decade, Japan was no longer the all-consuming juggernaut and is still being dragged down by its lost decade. The Chinese have arisen as the country that Western observers expect to become the next great power, although we'll see what happens to them.

But those passages, and all the references to the "sons of Nippon" and the "Nipponized resorts", mar a book that's otherwise beautiful and unique - after all, when was the last time you read anything at all about what it's like in the South Pacific?

I've finished Happy Isles now, and am probably not going to read it again for a while. But it was fascinating getting back in touch with the Francis who read it 12 years ago, and a little disheartening seeing how short-sighted some of those racist passages were. I'm interested to see what I notice next time I read it.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

World Cup 2014 Wrap-Up

Yes, I know I'm running late with this. Had a couple of dates to go on between when the final aired and now, so this is actually the first chance I've had to sit down and think about the World Cup final, between Germany and Argentina.

So anyway: Germany wins, becomes first European team to win in Western Hemisphere, finally fulfills the promise of the last 8 years. Lots of newsworthy stuff in this one, eh?

OK, don't call me Statto anymore

If nothing else, this World Cup taught the transience of statistics. My initial guess, that Brazil would win the entire tournament, was based on the home region and home country advantage. This was because South American teams were the only ones who'd ever won in either North or South America. More to the point, I figured that Brazil would be hungrier to win it since the Maracanazo of 1950.

Problem is, as I believe they say in the army, skill beats will every time. Hunger to win is the decider when two teams are evenly matched - but as Germany proved in the semi-final, they were on a completely different planet than Brazil.

To give the guys from the Guardian their due, they did discuss this, and how there was strictly speaking no reason for European teams' inability to travel well. As I acknowledged, the stats were against Germany winning, because no European team had ever managed it. But now that it's happened, there's no reason to expect that it can't happen again, or that a South American team can't go on and win in Europe (again).

In this case, it's worth remembering the old adage from investing: past performance is no guarantee of future results. Stats on whoever has won or never won at a certain stage are only stats, and betting too heavily on them will probably leave you broke. This even holds true for the Dutch team, of course - there's no reason for them to constantly fail at the last hurdle, but they always do. And when they finally don't, that stat will be meaningless.

German engineering

In fact, the German win might give the Dutch a nice boost of confidence. Much was made during this World Cup of how Germany has reached the last two semi-finals (and the final before that), and of how close they came in the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. It was becoming something of a cliche how they would play amazing football, but never progress beyond the semi-final.

Clearly, whatever tinkering Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw have done since Klinsmann took over after Euro 2004 finally came to fruition this year. And it's important to note that Germany has been the most consistent team of the last ten years or so - Spain may have won three tournaments on the hop, including by beating the Germans, but Germany was always there, while the other semi-finalists frequently changed.

It's debatable whether or not Germany will go on to a streak like Spain's, though. They'll surely be favorites to win the Euros in 2016, as almost all of this team will still be playing, but (and I'm resorting to stats again, but bear with me) it's been extremely rare for World Cup winners to defend their title, especially in the last few years. The fact is, a lot can happen in four years - players can drop out, form can fail, and Löw's contract is currently only good until 2016. He could very well get an extension - or he could get fired or resign.

And Germany's rivals will likely find ways to play around them. It may not be as dramatic as Spain's collapse this year, but Germany will at some point go through another dark period. It is, after all, 24 years since they last won a World Cup.

Looking ahead

In any case, if it seems silly to guess what'll happen in four years, I'm still happy to do so. It's safe to say that CONMEBOL and UEFA will continue to dominate the tournament when it comes to Russia. The very best teams will have rebuilt by then, and the mid-tier teams can also expect to book their tickets (the US, Mexico, Ghana, Nigeria, South Korea). If Klinsmann is still coaching the US, they may break their streak of never winning a competitive game on European soil - or they might not.

Of course, the next World Cup might not even be held in Russia. This is probably a bit fanciful, given all the attention on Qatar's dodgy-in-the-extreme tournament, but if Russia embroils itself in another war, it might not be safe or stable enough to hold a tournament there.

That's extremely speculative, of course. And if I'm being cynical, I'll note that Russia would likely wait until after the tournament to start back in on its geopolitical shenanigans. But it's also true that the US is generally held as a reserve host when observers complain about lack of readiness at a host country (as they did with Brazil, and if memory serves, South Africa).

I hope the US gets it again, most likely in 2022, when it's stripped from Qatar. I'd like to be able to attend in person someday, and it might be when the team finally wins it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

World Cup 2014: Mineirazo

Football is a game of constant surprises, a sport where the scoreline can obscure what actually happened in the game. A 0-0 draw can be a dour affair, or it can be the most balletic display of athleticism ever seen (Germany vs Italy from 2006 is my prime example of this). At other times, however, like in today's match between Brazil and Germany, the scoreline can be a pretty accurate reflection of the game's ebb and flow.

As I've noted in previous posts, I fully expected Brazil to win this game. Sure, they'd been a bit dour in the previous rounds, but they'd always struggled through. Germany, meanwhile, had also been less than their usual swashbuckling selves, and had ground out a difficult 2-1 win against Algeria and a pretty unconvincing 1-0 against a France team that looked like they'd rather be anywhere else. With the weight of history and the support of 200 million citizens, surely we were in for another ground-out match that would be settled either in the earliest stages of the game, or the latest.

And if you were truly cynical (moi?), you'd guess that even if the Germans played Brazil off the pitch, then at least the referee would make reprehensible calls in the hosts' favor - as they've been doing throughout most of the tournament.

So, uh. That 7-1 tonking, then. Who saw that coming?

It actually started pretty well for Brazil. They pressed high, had a few chances, and generally made nuisances of themselves. It looked like the last couple of games of really intense anthem-singing was going to pay off.

Frankly, even when Brazil went 2-0 down it didn't look hopeless. But it was that span of ten minutes, starting at about minute 20, that did it. In a continuation of a shameful trend, Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar found himself constitutionally unable to hold onto a shot, and the three defenders in front of him may as well have been foosball men, for all that they were able to cope with the Germans' passing game.

I did say "three defenders", didn't I? Yes, while Brazil was nominally playing with four men at the back, wide shots of the screen typically showed no more than three hanging back by the keeper's box. Marcelo, over on the left, seemed to have gone walkabout, which was - ironically enough - the exact point of entry that the Germans seemed most able to exploit. Although the entire back 3-or-4 was hapless - witness my favorite picture of the game, as Müller puts in the first goal.

Marcelo, in that picture, looks like a cartoon character. He looks like a man having one of those nightmares where you show up to school and realize you've managed to get there wearing only underpants. To put it in SF terms, it's like his consciousness has been possessed by a talented footballer for the past several years, and the link broke down only in that moment, leaving a bewildered man facing Germany in the World Cup.

But let's look at the positives

On the other hand, I did get to see Miroslav Klose bag his sixteenth goal to move clear of Ronaldo (for whom this match must have been even more of a shitter than that awful final he had against France in 1998). I'd been a little apprehensive about Klose starting, as he'd been largely anonymous against France, but Löw's faith in him was rewarded when he pounced to slot him the rebound off Cesar's hands. I suppose that's why Joachim Löw coaches the German national team and I'm sitting here blogging about it.

It's possible he might even get a chance to add a seventeenth, since Germany's going on to the final now. That'll be important, because the record looks like it'll be broken again soon, by yet another German - Thomas Müller.

Müller, it turns out, is now on 10 World Cup goals in his career, spread across two tournaments, thanks to the five he's scored just in Brazil. And he's 24, so assuming he stays fit and keeps getting picked, he could have another three World Cups in him. It's fanciful to suggest he'll keep to that average of five goals per tournament (which would give him a nigh-unassailable 25 in total), but then again, he has one more game in Brazil to add to his tally, and could get even better by the time 2018 rolls around.

If he's still playing at the age of 32 or 36 (as Klose is doing), then he won't even need to start every game to challenge for the record. He'll just need to come on every once in a while to slot in a convenient goal.

Playing the odds

So who will Germany face in the final? My money is still on Argentina beating the Netherlands. This is based on a number of factors - the main one is the Dutch team's propensity to implode at key moments. The final in 2010 springs to mind as a good example, but so does Euro 2008, when they romped almost joyfully through Italy and France (incidentally, picking up the same goal difference as in today's game) before losing tamely to Russia in the first knockout round. There's no good reason to assume that it'll happen again this year - but then, there never is. If it doesn't happen against Argentina, the odds will be greater that it happens against Germany.

Another key point is the Netherlands' strength in depth. The Dutch attack boasts three of the finest players in the world - Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder - but the rest of the midfield and the defense may not be as incisive. We simply haven't seen them properly tested - Costa Rica hardly troubled the Dutch defense, and while Mexico scored, the Netherlands held them to just one, which was enough for the Dutch to score two late goals and progress to the next round.

Of course, you could say the same about Argentina. They boast some amazing attacking players - including a Lionel Messi who's finally living up to his potential - but the rest of the team is deeply suspect. I've generally gone for the South American teams over the European ones in this tournament, and think that even an unconvincing Argentina is stronger opposition than what the Netherlands has faced so far. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Dutch do manage to get to the final.

Although if today's display is anything to go by, I wouldn't fancy them against Germany, whose only blot on today's record is not the goal they conceded in the 90th minute, but the fact that they weren't able to get the entire team on the scoresheet. That said, it's good to remember the words of Yogi Berra: "That's why they play the games."

I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

World Cup 2014: No Surprises Left

If the group stages of this year's World Cup held a bunch of surprises (and goals), the knockout stages in Brazil have gone in an altogether more traditional direction. Only three matches in the round of 16 were settled in the regulation 90 minutes, with powerhouses like Germany having a lot of trouble against upstarts like Algerian. In the quarter-finals, two matches were settled extremely early on, and only one featured more than one goal. And, more tellingly, the upstarts have finally all fallen away.

Colombia, which had lit up the group stage with flowing, fun, attacking football, found themselves played off the pitch by a Brazil team that was nowhere near its best, but turned out to be still too good. France, meanwhile, disappeared without a whimper against Germany, while Belgium hardly gave Argentina cause for concern. In fact, the only game that looked up in the air at any point was the Netherlands' win against Costa Rica, and that only because it went to penalties.

So at this point we're left with four heavyweights of World Cup soccer - Brazil plays Germany on Tuesday, in a repeat of the 2002 World Cup final, while the following day Argentina plays the Netherlands in a repeat of the 1978 World Cup final. The deja vu doesn't end there, either - Germany and the Netherlands both made it to the semi-finals last time, and of the four remaining teams, only the Netherlands has never won the tournament. Brazil, Germany and Argentina are all multiple winners, to boot.

Pura vida, indeed

Last time I talked about various plans to increase the number of teams outside of the big two confederations - Costa Rica was the only team in the quarter-finals to come from outside of Europe or South America, but now there are none. If the Tikos had made it to the semi-final, it would have been the first time a CONCACAF team made it since 1930, when the bronze medal went to none other than the US (I know, wtf, right?).

They played a good game against the Dutch, although the gulf in quality was pretty apparent throughout - they may have stopped Robben, van Persie and co. from scoring, but Costa Rica never really looked like finding the net themselves, other than at the very end.

It's hard to see how they can repeat the feat, though. Of the 23 men named in the squad, only 7 will still be under 30 by the time the next World Cup comes around. That doesn't mean the rest will all have retired by then - Keylor Navas should expect to play next time, assuming his form holds up - but of course, some of the players will no longer be available, for whatever reason, and it's impossible to tell who will replace them.

Most of them play outside Costa Rica, as well, and none of these players is on the books for the very best clubs of Europe (said with apologies to Levante, PSV and Olympiacos, of course). It's impossible to tell what kind of youngsters the national team set-up in Costa Rica has to work with, which will be another question mark over the team making an impact next time.

And as a final comment - and not to detract from their achievement in any way - the Tikos were lucky to be placed in a group that turned out to be so abject, despite its "Group of Death" billing. The expectation before the tournament started was that Costa Rica would end up being the whipping boys. They may also have been lucky to have avoided Luis Suarez in their first match against Uruguay, and to have played a worn-out Italy and England for the next two.

All this is to say that while I hope this isn't the last we see of Costa Rica, my fear is that the odds are against them repeating this feat in four years. But I hope they do make it (although ideally not against Italy).

The great man theory

Of course, as I suggested above, the remaining teams are all groups that we can expect to see again (and again, and again...). I still believe that Brazil will get stronger as they progress, as they'll be even more determined to win after the Maracanazo of 1950, and as the fans get even louder in support of the home team.

The loss of Neymar will be a tough one, though probably not catastrophic. It's true that this year's Brazil team isn't the most amazing collection of players, but they're also a better team than, for instance, Argentina. If Messi were injured and out for the rest of the tournament, Argentina would be robbed of its most gifted playmaker - almost all of the goals the team has scored have involved him in some way.

(This makes Argentina, perversely, potentially the weakest remaining team. However, equally perversely, this works in their favor, because as the opposing teams all crowd around Messi to stop him playing, his team mates are freed up to do their own thing. Which is why I still believe Argentina will make it to the final.)

Pace my friend Dave, who insists that the team cohesion effect has been debunked, Brazil's great strength is their ability to play together. Goals, for example, have come from all over the team, with defenders like David Luiz and Thiago Silva getting on the scoresheet. Which is why, despite being weakened by Neymar's loss, they'll still be in better shape to score goals than Germany.

The Germans, remember, have only brought one "recognized" forward, Miroslav Klose - two if you count Lukas Podolski, but I seem to be the only one counting him (and anyway, he's been out injured too). Their goals have come from a variety of players too, but I think they've also been slightly weaker at the back when playing Philip Lahm out of position - and anyway, Manuel Neuer may be able to come haring out of the box and play sweeper against the likes of Algeria and France, but the Brazilians will make him pay for that.

Still, it seems clear that as the teams get more evenly matched, we'll see more games like the previous ones - slightly dour, slightly rough, but the better team snatching it either super-early or super-late. It could even be nothing but penalties from here on in. It'd be a shame, but still in keeping with what we've seen so far.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

World Cup 2014: Two Hours Plus Pain

We're done with the round of sixteen in the World Cup now, capped by the US crashing out after an epic slog against Belgium. I was a little surprised to see how affected I was by the loss, even if it wasn't all that surprising (although I did say last weekend that the US would win, didn't I? Well, I'm not Nate Silver, after all).

Overall, most of the teams that have progressed to the quarterfinal now were the ones expected to do so - the only one that was maybe a surprise was Colombia, although as I said last time, there was the danger that taking Luis Suarez out would defang the team (#sorrynotsorry).

Quality Shows Through at the Very End

The interesting thing about the knockout round so far, which everyone else has commented on, is how most of the games have been settled in the last few minutes of play, or after extra time. In fact, the only match that wasn't decided by a last-minute flurry of goals was that same Colombia-Uruguay encounter, with James Rodriguez scoring in either half.

What's interesting is that the final results, being pretty much expected, obscure the effort that the winning teams put in to get to the next round. Anyone looking at match-ups like Argentina v Switzerland or Germany v Algeria would have assumed the more heralded teams would progress, but who would have expected both matches to be decided in extra time?

This may be because all of the teams are just a bit weaker than usual, and because the teams that experienced 4-0 or 5-1 drubbings in the group stage have already been eliminated. Sure, Germany looks great when they score 4 goals against a Portugal side that then fails to beat the US; but they then struggle against an Algerian team that led against Belgium for large parts of that first match, and that drubbed South Korea 4-2.

Argentina, in the meantime, was clearly the best team in its group, and better than Switzerland (who, let's remember, went down 5-2 to France), but that remains an unconvincing statement given how their wins against Bosnia and Iran involved own goals and/or last-minute brilliance from Messi.

It's kind of a shame that a tournament that began as the most exciting (goal-wise) in decades should turn into a knockout round full of goal-less draws, but it seems clear that teams are getting more cagey as the prospect of elimination becomes more immediate. It's clear, then, that the trick for weaker teams in the quarter-finals will be to kill off the game early. But the example of Mexico should be an important warning: killing it off means by more than one goal, because where the stronger teams are excelling is in marshalling their fitness against their opponents right at the end.

Team USA crashes out gloriously, again

That is, in fact, the most heart-breaking thing about the US's loss today. The game wasn't exactly dour in the first 90 minutes, but neither the US nor Belgium seemed particularly awake until de Bruyne scored. Then the US came back into the game, with Wondolowski missing what the British call a sitter. Super-sub Julian Green knocked one in with his first touch, but the game was beyond the US by then.

The problem was that the US, individually, still just wasn't good enough. Tim Howard may have broken a record for saves in a single game, but that's only because the four defenders in front of him weren't doing their job, and nor were the midfielders in front of them. The US did well to fall back, and strangle many of the Belgian attacks, but the defense still looked fragile. Remember that Cameron and Besler (and Bradley) were the ones whose errors let Portugal go in front and then equalize, at opposite ends of that match.

Up at the front, Dempsey was generally stranded on his own, because the midfield wasn't able to get up to support him. Bradley's last touch was pretty dreadful, as well. The only other bright spot I'd mention is DaMarcus Beasley, who seemed to be at both ends of the pitch at all times, and snuffed out a good few attacks on his own.

So the question now is where US Soccer goes from here. Frankly, it doesn't look great - the next World Cup will be in Europe, where the US has never won a competitive match; in three tournaments (1990, 1998 and 2006) the team has registered 8 defeats and one draw. This doesn't mean that the US can't get out of the group in 2018 - but it will depend on which group they're drawn in, and whether or not this travel-bug that still afflicts teams is real or not.

On the other hand, the US maybe could get the 2022 World Cup, if FIFA - grudgingly - takes it away from Qatar. If the tournament comes back here, and US Soccer's youth programs continue to pay dividends, then the US might even be in with a chance to win (although let's not get too excited, either...).

Platini and Blatter: Why Don't You Both Shut Up

Of course, if FIFA president Sepp Blatter gets his way, the US might have an even easier time winning. Blatter has suggested that UEFA's 13 spots should be given to the African and Asian teams, as well as those from CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean. UEFA president Michel Platini countered by saying that the World Cup could be expanded to 40 teams (divided in 8 groups of 5), which makes room for more of the smaller teams while keeping Europe's contingent unchanged.

Both are pretty terrible ideas, frankly. Platini's is more obviously bad, because although it sounds exciting to have even more teams and games and whatnot, think about the teams that would be coming in additionally. Costa Rica may have been a revelation this year, but most of Central America isn't that great - the only teams that consistently qualify and progress from the group stage are the US and Mexico.

Asia and Africa's teams are even worse. I used to protest about Oceania having to win a playoff to send a team to the tournament, but that was when there were two decent teams playing in the region - now that Australia qualifies from Asia, a full spot would give New Zealand automatic entry. This makes a mockery of the entire qualification process. Sure, Brazil always qualifies, but that's usually because they really are good enough to do so - otherwise it's because they're hosting it.

Blatter's idea, meanwhile, seems fair, as it would give more teams a chance to win the World Cup. But if Europe's involvement were reduced to, say, five or six teams, a win by one of these African or Asian teams would potentially be devalued, because they would likely have played another weak African or Asian team to get to the final (either that, or the South American teams would just roll over everyone every year).

What they should do is run the tournament on a coefficient system, like UEFA does with the Champions and Europa Leagues. Confederations whose teams do well would be rewarded with additional places, while those whose teams stank up the tournament could see their participation diminished. Obviously each confederation would have a lower limit, so that no confederation could be completely sidelined, the way Oceania is.

Although even on that basis, it's hard to argue that the African or especially the Asian teams should get even one extra qualifying spot. Three of the five African teams failed to qualify from the group stage, and now there are none in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, all four Asian teams came last in their respective groups, none having earned more than a single point. Theoretically, under the system I'm suggesting, Costa Rica's run of success this year could lead to an extra CONCACAF spot, at the expense of UEFA, but that would mean more teams like Honduras getting in, and so in eight years we'd likely be back to the same allocation.

But it would be fairer than what Blatter and Platini are suggesting, while also keeping the big names in the tournament. Because, after all, even if Ronaldo and Rooney (and previously Messi) don't really do much at big tournaments, they're still the players that fans come out to see. And that's the important thing, in the end.