World Cup Creep

Merry Christmas. I hope you all got what you wanted this year.

What you probably did not want is a World Cup in Russia. The ongoing brouhaha over Qatar aside, Russia has gotten its own share of corruption-based accusations regarding it having been awarded hosting rights to the 2018 World Cup. It hasn’t been quite as loud as Qatar- perhaps because people could see Russia actually pulling its weight in competition- but it’s certainly been there. One particular instance of recent note was that of FIFA official Harold Mayne-Nicholls of Chile stating that in his task of checking the technical merits of all 11 potential hosts for 2018 and 2022, England had “by far” the strongest bid, which made it highly suspect when they only got two votes in the 2018 tally and were eliminated on the first ballot. Aggression towards Ukraine, international sanctions and charges of racism have picked up much of the rest of the tab.

However, in a few months, several nations will no longer have to worry about it… because they will already have been eliminated.

Another thing you might not have wanted is Christmas creep, that phenomenon where the Christmas season seems to begin earlier and earlier every year, to the point of having Black Friday sales during Thanksgiving dinner and radio stations switching to Christmas music as early as October. The World Cup, though, follows the same pattern. I wrote about this on my old blog shortly after the final in Brazil, but I’ll reprise it here. Soccer never sleeps. Never. Mere hours after Germany lifted the trophy in Rio de Janeiro, MLS action was underway in Seattle as the Sounders defeated the Portland Timbers 2-0, in a match featuring several players who had been eliminated from the World Cup just a week earlier. The World Cup has slowly, over the years, crept further and further across the realm of the four-year cycle that governs it, not merely through the dramatic finale itself but through the qualifiers that feed it.

What I’m going to show you now is the time gaps between the date of each World Cup final and the date of the very first qualifying match for the next World Cup. And, of course, what that match was. In some cases, there have been multiple matches beginning on the same day; whenever possible, I took the match with the earliest timestamp. For the 1982 and 2002 qualifiers, those timestamps don’t exist, so I just used both.

Uruguay 1930: Final, June 30. Ensuing qualifiers began June 11, 1933, with Sweden/Estonia in Stockholm, which Sweden won 6-2 (they would eventually qualify). Gap: 1,077 days.
Italy 1934: Final, June 15. Ensuing qualifiers began June 16, 1937, with Sweden/Finland in Stockholm, which Sweden won 4-0 (again, they would eventually qualify). Gap: 1,097 days.
France 1938: Final, June 19. Ensuing qualifiers began… okay, there was a little thing called World War 2 that got in the way, so the ensuing qualifiers began June 2, 1949, with Sweden/Ireland in Stockholm, which Sweden won 3-1 (once again, they qualified). Gap: 4,001 days.
Brazil 1950: Final, July 16. Ensuing qualifiers began May 9, 1953, with Yugoslavia/Greece in Belgrade, which Yugoslavia won 1-0 (and eventually qualified). Gap: 1,023 days.
Switzerland 1954: Final, July 4. Ensuing qualifiers began September 30, 1956, with Austria/Luxembourg in Vienna, wherein Austria cruised to a 7-0 spanking (and qualified). Gap: 819 days.
Sweden 1958: Final, June 29. Ensuing qualifiers began August 21, 1960, with Costa Rica/Guatemala in San Jose, which Costa Rica won 3-2. Gap:784 days.
Chile 1962: Final, June 17. Ensuing qualifiers began May 24, 1964, with Netherlands/Albania in Rotterdam, which the Netherlands won 2-0. Gap: 707 days.
England 1966: Final, July 30. Ensuing qualifiers began May 19, 1968, with Austria/Cyprus in Vienna, which Austria dominated 7-1. Gap: 659 days.
Mexico 1970: Final, June 21. Ensuing qualifiers began November 14, 1971, with Malta/Hungary in Valletta, where Hungary became the first away team to win an opener, doing so by the score of 2-0. Gap: 511 days.
West Germany 1974: Final, July 7. Ensuing qualifiers began March 7, 1976, with Sierra Leone/Niger in Freetown, which Sierra Leone won 5-1. Gap: 609 days.
Argentina 1978: Final, June 25. Ensuing qualifiers began March 26, 1980, with Cyprus/Ireland in Nicosia, which Ireland won 3-2; and Israel/Northern Ireland in Jerusalem, which ended in a scoreless draw (Northern Ireland would qualify). Gap: 640 days.
Spain 1982: Final, July 11. Ensuing qualifiers began May 2, 1984, with Cyprus/Austria in Nicosia, which Austria won 2-1. Gap: 661 days.
Mexico 1986: Final, June 29. Ensuing qualifiers began April 17, 1988, with Guyana/Trinidad and Tobago in Georgetown, which Trinidad and Tobago won 4-0. Gap: 658 days.
Italy 1990: Final, July 8. Ensuing qualifiers began March 21, 1992, with Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico in Santo Domingo, which Puerto Rico won 2-1. Gap: 622 days.
United States 1994: Final, July 17. Ensuing qualifiers began March 10, 1996, with Dominica/Antigua and Barbuda in Roseau, which ended in a 3-3 draw. Gap: 602 days.
France 1998: Final, July 12. Ensuing qualifiers began March 4, 2000, with Trinidad and Tobago/Netherlands Antilles in Port of Spain, which Trinidad and Tobago won 4-0; and Honduras/Nicaragua in San Pedro Sula, which Honduras won 3-0. Gap: 601 days.
Korea/Japan 2002: Final, June 30. Ensuing qualifiers began September 6, 2003, with Argentina/Chile in Buenos Aires, which ended in a 2-2 draw (Argentina would qualify, the most recent team in an opener to eventually do so). Gap: 433 days.
Germany 2006: Final, July 9. Ensuing qualifiers began August 25, 2007, with Tahiti/New Caledonia in Apia, Samoa, won 1-0 by New Caledonia. Gap: 412 days.
South Africa 2010: Final, July 11. Ensuing qualifiers began June 15, 2011, with Montserrat/Belize in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, won 5-2 by Belize. Gap: 339 days.

Brazil 2014 wrapped on July 13. While Africa, South America and Europe have yet to set dates, we do have dates for the other three continental qualifiers. The earliest of those three is that of Asia, who announced about a week ago that they will commence on March 12 with teams yet to be drawn, making for a gap of 242 days, and the first round, a set of two-legged ties between the weakest sisters of the continent, will conclude on March 17, as part of an aggressive strategy to respond to the continent’s subpar performance in Brazil. On the 23rd, before the first corpses of the Cup are even cold, North America will also set off on the road to Moscow.

I’ve made a graph of the gaps, adjusting the 1938 number to account for World War 2. Had the 1938 final on June 19 fallen on the same date in 1946, four years out from Brazil 1950, the gap would not be 4,001 days but 1,079. Remember the goal here is to show how early the qualifiers begin, and in order to best show that, the gap from France 1938 to Brazil 1950 needs to be normalized to the same four-year cycle as the other Cups. Besides, if I don’t, the extreme 4,001 outlier would obscure the rest of the graph. That entry carries the appropriate asterisk.

World Cup creep is real. Only eight months now separate the end of one journey and the start of the next. While the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, England and the United States can kick back for a while and speculate over what names might prove worthy of being named to the team a few years down the road, Bermuda will be holding trials on Monday and Tuesday, because for them, there is no time for hypotheticals. They have to figure their squad out right now.

And they have to do it with a recent spate of gun violence having rattled the country. Bermuda observes Remembrance Day on November 11, as do many countries, though some use an alternate name. On Remembrance Day, two shootings took place in Bermuda, one outside the national stadium in Devonshire, and the other at the grounds of Somerset Cricket Club, the shootings coming shortly after Somerset lost 3-0 to defending champion Dandy Town in the final of the national cup competition, held at the national stadium. Four were injured in the shootings. All games down to the U-16 level were suspended for a week. Two men were ultimately arrested in connection with the shootings, Germiko Williams and Shantoine Prinston Burrows; their cases appear to be ongoing.

It’s under this cloud that Bermuda prepares itself for a World Cup that may well end for them before the Cups of others even begin, or before they’re even aware it’s begun. But with this much creep, someone is bound to get shoved aside egregiously early. The Gombey Warriors hope it won’t be them.

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