Bhutan get a Booting

Some rather one-sided results happened in the World Cup Qualifying in Asia last week:

UAE 10-0 Malaysia

Saudi Arabia 7-0 East Timor

Australia 5-0 Bangladesh

Qatar 15-0 Bhutan

Iran 6-0 Guam

Iraq 5-1 Chinese Taipei

South Korea 8-0 Laos

Kuwait 9-0 Myanmar

These results happened on the same day because this was the day the teams in each group seeded top were due to play the teams seeded last. Japan’s 3-0 win over Cambodia raised eyebrows as to how low the final score was. But why does Asia have so many more one-sided games than Europe does?

If we compare the FIFA World Ranking of European teams vs Asian teams, we can see the difference:

Asia Europe

Just over half of Europe’s 53 teams teams are ranked above 60 in the World, while the same is true of only 2 out of 46 Asian teams.

At the top of sport, winning margins tend to be very fine, for example in tennis, you would not expect Murray, Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic to absolutely rout each other, and even in the Premier League in football, big wins are (relatively) rare. If you go further down, however, there can be huge differences, even within the same division (check out last season’s Highland League, Scotland’s fifth tier, by way of example).

So it is in international football. In Asia, there are a few good teams such as Japan, Iran, South Korea, and Australia (yes, Australia is an Asian country, in the same way that Israel and Kazakhstan are European. The world’s gone mad.), some mediocre ones such as Qatar, and a lot of pretty poor ones.

In the past, they would have a couple of knockout rounds to trim the field down so that the teams left were of a reasonable standard, but this time round they have had one knockout round to get rid of six teams, leaving them with eight groups of five. Bhutan came through this round against Sri Lanka in their first ever campaign and came up against a Qatar side filled with seasoned pros, albeit ones that you and I have never heard of.

They hadn’t a prayer. In Europe, where there is a small number of such poor sides, there is potentially an argument that getting these sides to pre-qualify would be picking on them. In any case, they are improving. I was impressed by San Marino’s desire to get into England’s half at the weekend, even though they couldn’t do anything with it, and as I speak, they have equalised against Lithuania. Other traditional whipping boys Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and so on have had some good results in recent years.

This isn’t the case in Asia (particularly, it would seem, South East Asia) where quality is hard to come by. Why this is depends on the particular country- Myanmar, for instance, has had political problems-  but it is more often and not due to a lack of money and international experience.Throw in a low population and a remote mountain location, and you have Bhutan. While Qatar’s population isn’t that much bigger than Bhutan’s they do have a lot more money (this is not the place to speculate where that money goes), experience, and connections. There was pretty much nothing going in Bhutan’s favour, so a mauling was inevitable.

It’s not really Bhutan’s fault, they have just been thrown in at the deep end too early- it would have made far more sense to stick with the previous format of whittling it down to 20 teams, and maybe have some competition for the teams that got knocked out.

Hopefully this will be rectified, but if anyone believes there are no easy games in international football, then they are living in La La Land. Who also did not qualify.

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