As another international week gets underway and England expectedly beat San Marino 5-0, the calls for pre-qualification came again from all the usual suspects.
For the bigger nations, matches against Pot Six nations are almost seen as an inconvenience; an exercise in not picking up injuries.
However, the idea that by pushing the smallest teams to one side and letting them play each other in order to ‘earn’ the right to face everyone else will aide their progress is at best naive.
Does anyone seriously think that by having the likes of San Marino, Andorra and Gibraltar play a couple of pre-qualifiers, then be condemned to two years in the international wilderness if they don’t win, they will actually become better nations?
For those who lose, their national game would become stagnant, and come the next pre-qualifying campaign two years they would repeat a vicious cycle that would end up with international football becoming an afterthought in those nations.
Instead, the men’s game should look towards both the women’s and futsal game, and look to increase competitive action for those who need it the most.
In the summer months, when the players of Gibraltar, Faroe Islands and Malta etc. would be at home watching whatever game the World Cup has thrown up that day, or the latest meaningless trip by a European club side to the Far East, why don’t they get together and have their own mini-tournaments?
At youth and women’s level, UEFA calls them development tournaments, and the fact is these nations are still developing, learning from each meaningful match they play.
Get some of these nations together, allow one of them the novelty of hosting a multi-nation tournament, and give them the experience and game time they need. Little incentive for the winner is needed when players of the smallest nations actually have pride in wearing their nations colours, regardless of the score.
In an ideal world, a few non-UEFA members could also be invited, giving them a taste of playing against bigger opponents than they are used to in the wilderness of ‘non-FIFA’ football.
The upcoming UEFA Nations League looks to address this somewhat, but more can be done by both UEFA and the respective nations FA’s to get teams playing more often.
The only way national teams develop is by playing meaningful games as often as possible; by restricting some to as little as two games every qualifying campaign, the gap between them and the rest of UEFA would only become bigger.