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Simon Hill and Wil Anderson. The sides of two coins.

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Twitter is a great place for code wars spot fires.  Football fans know that #Sokkahtwitter can be unforgiving.

This week’s blue started with an article by Simon Hill.

The article was prompted by a joking remark by comedian Peter Helliar (and aided by Waleed Aly who should have known better) about Honduras crime reputation.

Hill writes:

Helliar’s throwaway line (which I’m not going to repeat here), was intended to be a light-hearted dig, but it’s easy to see why the Hondurans – who have been warm and generous hosts – failed to see the funny side. It’s a timely reminder that humour doesn’t always travel well.

In this context, Hill makes some good points.

There is still a cultural misunderstanding among certain elements in Australia, as to just how important these big qualifiers really are. Particularly for countries who showcase themselves through football – a sport which, in this part of the world, comes second only to Catholicism as the national religion.

There remains too, a wilful, almost belligerent ignorance to the opportunities that games such as these present for the promotion of positive Australian values abroad, and how unique football is in providing the extraordinary type of atmosphere you’ll witness through your TV screens on Saturday morning.

Sadly, that’s because the national narrative remains stuck in a parochial loop when it comes to the conversation around sport in general. Into the vacuum comes prejudice, intentional or not, dressed up as humour.

So far so good. I do agree with Simon that the mainstream media, with notable exceptions, may lack that awareness which sees sport in an international setting.  This may be partly because the most popular sports may have no real international dimension (such as aussie rules) or a relatively more limited one (Rugby Union and Cricket).

But then Simon goes on to diss other sports.

If you’re looking for serious analysis, then the mainstream media finds it far easier to talk about the Ashes, discuss the latest AFL scandal, or examine (with faux earnestness), the made up entities that masquerade as nations at the Rugby League World Cup………

And ..

After her exploits at the Tournament of Nations, Kerr (and her Matilda’s teammates) became the hot ticket item for a period of time – yet the conversation soon reverted to type. She was continuously referenced as the “sister of Daniel Kerr”, and more than one reporter suggested her next logical move was into the AFLW.

Er, no. It isn’t actually. Why on earth would Kerr give up shots at the Asian Cup, the Women’s World Cup, and the Olympics (all in the space of the next three years), to take part in a six-week hit and giggle-fest on the suburban fields of Melbourne? Or the international acclaim and money she earns playing professionally in the USA?

To criticise the stereotyping of Honduras as a dangerous place is one thing.  But why Hill needs to then take aim at other codes?  I am not a Rugby fan but Rugby League fans I am sure are enjoying it, and describing the AFLW as a ‘six-week hit and giggle-fest on the suburban fields of Melbourne” is wrong and bordering offensive.

True that when the AFLW came on the scene it seemed like women’s sport did not exist beforehand. And this was amplified here in Melbourne by the strong AFL media, but the dismissing the significance of a Woman’s AFL competition, it as Hill has done, shows a lack of understanding on the personal importance of the AFL to many women.  The daughter of one of my best friends has written a great article about this which very clearly demonstrate that the meaningfulness of the AFLW is much more than a “hit and giggle-fest”.  By doing this Hill is doing the same as soccerphobes.  Imagine if an AFL writer described the W League in this way. #Sokkahtwitter would be rightly in uproar.

Now let’s talk about Wil Anderson.  This is how he reacted to Simon Hill’s article

I quite like Wil Anderson as a comedian.  But I suspect he’s no friend of football.  Apart from portraying football as ‘your sport’, he podcasts about AFL.  In October he joined Triple M’s breakfast show which hosted by that well known soccerphobe Eddie McGuire.   And if we have any doubts about his position we can see this follow up tweet.

The interesting thing here is that Anderson is showing exactly what Simon Hill was writing about.  The criticism of Hilliar joke wasn’t about ‘the sport’ but the fact that it portrayed Honduras as a dangerous place, even more dangerous than ISIS.  The assumption that football, the global sport by excellence, could not ‘survive’ is plainly ridicolous.    Honduras is not the same like joking about South Australia and bodies in a barrel (whether that is tasteless or not). Taking the piss may be fine in Australia but not in other parts of the world and doing does show up the parochialism of some Australians.  Anderson’s position tends to reinforce what Hill was saying that the world offered by a local sport such as AFL is a world “we” can process and understand. The world on our terms.

Ultimately I think it is important criticise the attitude towards football.  It is important to highlight what Hill describes as ‘introspective thinking’ among some in the mainstream media.  But focus on the commentators not on the sports themselves, otherwise it is repeating what we football supporters experience from soccerphobes but in reverse.

Finally I leave the last word to Richard Hinds who summarises the whole thing beautifully.

 

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New York. Familiarity on steroids.

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The view on ‘Top of the Rock’

You know when you look forward to something for such a long time that somehow when you finally get to do it you are afraid it may be a bit of a let down?

I wanted to see New York since I was seven.  That was fifty years ago.  Almost a lifetime. New York didn’t meet my expectations. It exceeded them.

I love cities.  Always did, I was born in one and grew up in one.  When emigrating to Australia my father did the ‘Australian middle class thing’ to live in the suburbs I found it depressing.  The lack of people and noise.  When due to unforeseen circumstances we moved to Melbourne’s inner suburbs near shops, restaurants and people I felt re-born.

This is why I loved New York.  I didn’t feel anxious one bit, quite the opposite, I was incredibly comfortable.   I know this may sound wanky, but as I experienced the city for the first time walking 40th Street to go to the New York Public Library on 5th Ave I could feel the vibrations of the city and it was something I felt at home with.

This is the opposite when I am in the bush where I always feel a sense of mild anxiety.  Knowing there are few or no people around, where if it gets dark there are no lights to make it like day, really feeling like a fish out of water.

Of course it is also different.  But the difference is in the size of the experience.  Is like watching a movie on a laptop, and then watching it on 3D IMAX.  The movie is the same, the action of watching is the same, but the experience of watching it on a huge screen in 3D is like walking in an Australian city and New York.

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Even for a city lover like me Times Square was a bit too much

However I did ask myself whether visiting for a couple of weeks and living there would change my perception.  Whether having your senses being constantly stimulated would eventually create a sense of fatigue.  I experienced a bit of this when while waiting for tickets for a Broadway show we entered the St. Malachy Roman Catholic Church and it was such an oasis of peace, quiet and calm that I really welcomed.

One thing for certain.  I want to go back.

 

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AFL in China.

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One of the most febrile twitter ‘groups’ is what has been dubbed ‘sokkahtwitter’.  Anyone who is vaguely familiar with this group knows that is not a place for the fainthearted. Opinions fly back and forth.  But woe anyone who belittle the sport.

Sokkahtwitter has been working in overdrive recently regarding the forthcoming AFL match between Port Adelaide and Gold Coast.

Somehow sometimes I think that we Association Football supporters have a bit of a chip on our shoulder.  Sometimes with good reasons considering the way that the sport has been portrayed by the media in some instances.  Sometimes I think there is also a degree of oversensitiveness.

My attitude towards Code Wars is that (1) it is important to defend the sport from inaccurate and unjustified attacks and (2) it’s also OK if it is done in the Australian spirit of ‘banter’ or ‘taking the piss’.

Usually the code wars thing is left to us punters.  Professional journalists and Association Football players tend to stay with the line ‘there is room for everyone’ which is diplomatic but not really true.

The AFL didn’t arrive at being the number one code in Australia (I am talking TV ratings attendances as a whole here, not participation) by being a shrinking violet, the AFL has been brutal in pushing its advantage in any way it can, and if it is not successful immediately they have the resources to stay for the long haul.

Perhaps this attitude originates from the game itself.  There isn’t really a ‘parking the bus’ strategy in Australian Rules football.  If you’re on top you score again and again until your opponent is buried to the ground.

This attitude means the there is no demarcation where the AFL wants its presence.  It is prepared to ‘invade’ areas that previously were the prerogative  by other sports.  Western Sydney is one of the fastest growing areas in Australia and mainly follows Association Football and Rugby League? No matter. Put a team there.  AFL disregarded woman football since its inception, and now it looks like a winner? Lets start the WAFL.

Probably the thing that irritate the Association Supporters most is that the AFL has such a great network of media allies that the message going out is that ‘Western Sydney was waiting for an AFL Team’ or it seems that before the WAFL was created there was almost no sport avenue for females.  Even sport journalists that cover AFL were taken aback by this message

The issue here is that Association Football is not the major code in Australia.  We know that.  But we have (or had) some advantages.  The popularity of Association Football in Western Sydney, the fact that at least before the WAFL, Association Football was ‘the’ football code to play for females.  And we see this AFL juggernaut not being happy to just be number one in most states, but using its might to be number one everywhere (whether it succeed or not is another matter).

One big advantage that Association Football still has over the AFL is its international dimension.   As Australian Rules Football is quintessentially Australian,  Association Football is probably the most international sport in the world.  We know that on this area the AFL cannot compete, or even try.

So when we heard that the AFL going to China sokkahtwitter knew it couldn’t lose.  Finally the AFL was on a hiding to nothing.  Initially I think most of the comments were about the AFL’s delusion of grandeur.  But then as it happened with Western Sydney and especially the WAFL the media machine started to get going.  The Port Adelaide President and TV Host David Koch hyped the event to the max.

“The AFL will become the first elite foreign competition to play a regular season game for points in China, beating the likes of the NBA, English Premier League, Major League Baseball and NFL. That is a monumental achievement in itself and speaks volumes of the strength of the relationship between our two nations.

“This is so much more significant that just playing a game for premiership points on foreign soil. This is a landmark moment in the development of Australia’s sporting, cultural, political, economic and tourism ties with China.

“The appetite for AFL football in China is even stronger than we could have imagined when Port Adelaide began forging relationships there.”

That sort of hyperbole is to expected from a president of an AFL club that wants to make some coin.  But inevitably this was echoed in sport reports.

I knew that this would have got sokkahtwitter all worked up.  But with this level of hyperbole even Association Football journalists that usually are wary commenting on AFL matters couldn’t stay silent.   Especially when A League clubs have been travelling to far flung parts of Asia for years.  The first to shoot across the bow was Van Magliaccio from the Advertiser.

THE blank faces perhaps told the entire story.

Jiangsu Suning boss Choi Yong-soo and midfielder Xiaobin Zhang looked perplexed when asked if they would follow the first AFL clash for points in China at the weekend.

Port Adelaide hosting the Gold Coast Suns in Shanghai didn’t register a mention from Jiangsu’s duo with the club’s media officer asking if the game being played was in fact rugby…

Choi and Zhang are in Adelaide preparing for the AFC Champions League clash against Adelaide United at Hindmarsh on Tuesday night with the match to be televised live to TV audiences in China, Thailand, Cambodia, the Middle East, South East Asia on the Fox network, Uzbekistan, India and Australia on Fox Sports.

Then stories transpired about players been told not to eat the food, the concern about the pollution and their safety.  Michael Lynch from the Age wrote a piece about this type of reporting.

Judging by the breathless coverage, Port Adelaide and Gold Coast might as well be heading off into outer space.

So arduous is the portrayal of their journey to China for the first AFL game for premiership points played in Asia, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion.

We have had hand-wringing concerns over the air quality in polluted Shanghai, with asthmatic players having been ruled out of contention.

We have had fears expressed over the physical strain of such a fearful long-haul flight – particularly for the Suns, who are travelling in cattle class – and the deleterious effect it will surely have on the finely toned athletes of both clubs.

We have had worries put forward over the quality and kind of food that the players may have to eat, the environment they will encounter and the reception they may get.

Come off it, please.

Either the players are such delicate flowers that their suitability to play such a robust sport as footy must be called into question, or it is yet another example of the AFL world’s tendency to navel gaze, hyper ventilate and over-emphasise even the tiniest event.

Teams from the A-League have, for the past dozen years, routinely travelled to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand and the Middle East to play competitive matches in a much bigger tournament, the Asian Champions League.

There has been little breathless commentary on the difficulties and challenges their players face, the travails they must endure, to play for their team.

Other accounts also had a bit of fun.

There was so much Sokkahtwitter action that even Ryan McGowan who plays for Association Football team Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng F.C. in the Chinese Super League started to feel embarrassed.

Ultimately if Port Adelaide and the AFL want to play in China it’s their decision and prerogative.

But once they venture outside their comfort zone that we call Australia, with reports about the ‘difficult’ situations they are encountering associated with hyperbole that almost makes out that this match is as important as Whitlam’s visit to China in 1973,  then you have to expect some backlash.

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How twitter made me realise I was wrong.

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To paraphrase Pat Benatar ‘Twitter is a battlefield’

It has become from a place where people just twitted things like ‘It’s a nice day today!’ to changing political landscapes and ultimately the favourite method of communication for the current president of the United States.

People have lost jobs over tweets  (hello Scott McIntyre and Catherine Deveny) so while I am addicted there is always the danger that I may tweet something really inappropriate.

Faux pas or stupid statements that once could be limited at the pub or family dinners now can be retweeted and commented worldwide in matters of minutes, all from the comfort of your own phone.

But while twitter can amplify your own belief and prejudices in a social media bubble, in some cases can show you that you were wrong.

A case in point was last Saturday night during the A-League Sydney derby.  I was …ahem..watching it from my computer (wink wink) and following twitter at the same time.  And I saw this.

I don’t know why but I thought that the figure was Donald Trump (which in the light of things makes me look even more stupid) and that the Sydney Western Wanderers RBB were making a (albeit rude) political statement.

Perhaps it was reading both anti-Trumps and football tweets at the same time that made me make that assumption.  The RBB have made lefty statements before. Anyway I tweeted:

As the night went on people tweeted their disapproval.  Maybe they were too sensitive?  But it was a tweeter thread by Anna Harrington made me see something that I should have realised, that whether that figure was Trump or Arnie, the banner had homophobic connotations, and I was wrong in expressing my approval.

I think Anna makes the case much better than I could.  So I will just put her thread here.

 

 

 

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How to position the #Wleague where it belongs

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I really wasn’t going to write this post.  The argument of how Association Football is positioned in the sporting landscape has been done to death.  In this blog and also by people much more knowledgeable than myself.

But what prompted me to write this post was this morning’s edition of the ABC’ sport program ‘Offsiders’.

As I have written in this blog before I had to suppress my code wars instincts, and really say that the advent of the Women AFL is great for women’s sport in general. And perhaps think that if you have to invite people on the show you can’t invite a representative from every sport.

However the narrative amongst many football and non football alike is that the Women’s AFL competition has not only overtaken the WLeague in popularity.  A journalist also ventured that it could affect the A-League.

As we football fans are quite hyper sensitive to what we perceive attacks on our code Davutovic copped a lot of flack for that article, especially writing for a newspaper that is perceived to be very pro AFL and anti-football here in Melbourne. But Matildas Melissa Barbieri wrote similar things back in June.

But perhaps the reaction was because it provoked our frustration towards the FFA. A feeling that perhaps they got complacent thinking that summer was football’s patch, and that cricket would lull along with a few tests and one dayers and that we wouldn’t have to worry about footy until March.

But this was foolish in such a competitive sport environment such as Australia.  Cricket wasn’t going to give up its number one summer sport position easily and they hit back with the Big Bash League, while the AFL marketed its women’s competition brilliantly.  And to those in NSW and Queensland who may have been surprised by the success of this competition in Victoria and other Aussie Rules states,  you may not realise how popular aussie rules is among women.  It is no surprise to me that an AFL sponsored competition is such a success.  Writer  Clare Write spoke to the launch of Angela Pippos’ book: Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport.  And this passage is telling.

Ange documents many other women who have similarly campaigned — generally quietly, behind the scenes — so that my daughter can not only pull on the guernsey and footy boots like her brother before…..

Thank you for the fact that when I went to the Carlton-Melbourne game at Princes Park last week, I saw a mum say to her young daughter after the match: “You could be a full forward one day, Ella”.

Thank you for the fact that Ella got to sit in a crowd and watch thousands of men and boys, as well as other women and girls, clap and cheer the 32 women slogging it out on the field.

Thank you for the fact that this book will be part of the process of change, so that, as you write, Ella’s “world will be bursting with possibilities” because “stop signs don’t exist there”.

That passage tells a lot why for some of us blokes it seems that the reporting of Women’s AFL feels like they invented women’s sport.

To which Angela replied:

And that’s the nub of the issue.  Many women and young girls  in Victoria and other AFL states love the footy and now they feel that they can play it too and watch other women play it.  This presents a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to give the W-League more prominence.

What can the W-League do? – Differentiation

Go to new markets – expansion in new areas.

When the FFA talks about expansion they talk about going where the fish are, which in the main are capital cities.  That’s understandable because that’s where people live and derbies create interest and TV ratings.

The problem with that is that capital cities is also where other sport mainly operates and the competition is at its fiercest.

Would expansion to regional centres be an answer?  While this argument works for the A-League it is even more relevant for Women’s football.  Let’s take Tasmania.  The AFL has abandoned the idea of placing a team there and as Michael Cockerill has written  this gives a great opportunity for the A League to move into the breach.  But this could be even more for women football.  While the AFLW represent only teams which are in the mainland, imagine a W-League Tasmanian team.  Tasmanian women representing their state in a national competition.  AFLW doesn’t and Super Netball doesn’t.  That would be an opportunity to stand out.  This is already done with Canberra United but I think would get more attention in a state like Tasmania, but also in places like Woolongong for instance.

Highlight W-League as a league of its own….not as a precursor to the men’s

While as I have written before I try to eschew code wars, I recognise that heck, it is a really competitive environment out there.  While us fans can say ‘we like many codes’ or ‘all sports can co-exist’ which is true in our mind, the reality of the market is that resources such as sponsorship money and the best athletes can’t be distributed equally.

A lot of the marketing about the W-League has been that finally the AFL has created an competition for women.  But at this stage is a still a bit of a sideshow before the men competition starts.

This was stated by journalist Georgina Robinson on Offsiders.

So while we talk about equality, the FFA could highlight the fact that the W-League is not a ‘pre-season product’ but a fully fledged separate competition from the men’s.  The FFA should’t be all guns blazing about it, but perhaps mentioning it as a point of difference, especially considering the AFL media has been quite overt in defining the AFLW and a watershed for women’s sport.

Football as the world’s game.

One advantage that football has over other sports and codes in Australia is its international dimension.

I would suspect that only basketball would be on equal terms with football on this aspect.  Netball and cricket are also international sport but the number of countries which are competitive are not as many.

The fact that the Matildas have played so little in Australia is a bit of an indictment.  Not sure with the scheduling etc. but I am sure that a few friendlies in Australia, especially if played in smaller centres would attract attention and if marketed properly would increase the profile of the players and women’s football. The idea of bidding for the 2023 World Cup would be a great start.

It seems that the game is at at a bit of the juncture at the moment.  Expansion, possible promotion relegation down the track, A-League clubs wanting more say.  Let’s bring Women’s football into the mix.  Is too much of an opportunity to miss.

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To beat Trumpism and Hansonism will be hard. But it’s been done before.

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Populism is on the march.  So we all read on the news.

I am not going to repeat here what it has been written by many other professional commentators before.  But the common theme is that both Trump and Hanson are ‘anti-establishment’ not part of the ‘political elite’.

One thing I discerned is that while there is a hard rock of islamophobes/xenophobes and general bigots among those who have voted for Trump and Hanson, many who have voted for them are not necessarily so.  They have voted as an expression of feeling left out, of the political class not listening to them.  When you have something like Trump or Hanson that are perceived to be not part of that establishment the vote becomes more an expression of rebellion rather because they are attracted by the policies of those candidates.

While protesting and ‘resistance’ are all well and good, these actions will not motivate people to switch their votes.

What is needed here is to detach those who are not bigots or xenophobes away from those who are and return these ‘alt-right’ candidates to the margins where they belong.

How to do this?  It’s hard, time consuming, and it is a long process, but it has been done before.

If we take an USA example the Obama campaigns were successful because they involved grassroot activities from people who were persistent.  James Ridgeway wrote back in 2008:

Thousands of people sit together in campaign offices, union headquarters and living rooms calling up people they have never met. Thousands more troop through apartment buildings and walk the streets of suburban neighborhoods knocking on the doors of total strangers. Their numbers increase at night, when their own working days are over. Their targets are most likely to be homes, and mobile phone minutes are free. This kind of activity takes place across the US every four years – but never before on this scale. By all estimates, Barack Obama’s campaign is running the largest political field operation in history…..

This kind of campaigning is exhausting, inefficient, time-consuming and expensive. It also works better than anything else does.

I also read an article (that I can’t find) that this people momentum was squandered after Obama took power.  The job was done.  Obama was president and everything was going to be alright.  We have seen with Trump this didn’t happen. Voters became more and more disenchanted. What won the election for Trump was that many voters didn’t turn out to vote.

In Australia there is also this sense of  disenchantment that seems to push voters towards populist candidates.  The bigger danger is that voters’ disenchantment may lead to disregard mainstream media and getting ‘information’ from fake news sources.

But again Hansonism can be beaten if energy is put in to involve people.  I’ve seen this in the 1982 Victorian election where the ALP won government after 30 years of Liberal rule.  The ALP years before organised forums and meetings where interested people, community groups and organisations would be able to discuss and propose ideas.  And some became part of the ALP platform (the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act was an example).

This gave the government a great sense of connection and engaged the electorate.  Of course, like in the Obama case, once in office this lost momentum. But that is another story.

While the Greens do have a network of communities, a party like the ALP, with its Union membership could cast the net wider and even reach and involve those who are not necessarily ‘Labor’ people.  This would engage the community and make it feel part of the political process, reduce the effectiveness of biased fake news.

This is not as easy as a social media campaign as it involves organising and actively engaging people (although social media can help) and it is a long process.

But if we want to stem the rise of populism it may be the only pathway ahead.

 

 

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World Cup expansion? Why not. It’s not a competition between best teams anyway.

The football world has been abuzz after the news that from the 2026 tournament, FIFA has voted to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from its current 32.

From what I can gather from twitter the overall response has been negative, especially from Australian fans, which is surprising considering that expansion helped us getting into the World Cup when part of the Asian Confederation.  As Craig Foster stated :

Access to four guaranteed spots also gives us the opportunity to avoid the do or die scenarios of the past, and we grow quickly through three consecutive appearances, the last two being directly secured.

But how did Asia get four and half spots? Through expansion from 24 to 32 teams in 1998 (in 1974, Asia and Oceania had one spot combined; Asia one in 78; three and a half in 98 and four and a half in 2002).

I wonder if the reaction would have been different if this expansion was accepted back when Australia was part of Oceania and we failed to qualify for more than three decades.

The main argument against the expansion is that this is a cynical money grabbing exercise by FIFA, and that may be true.  There are very powerful nations which are putting lots of money in football, especially in Asia, that will finally get a spot.

The other argument, and the one that seems to be the main objection, is that the World Cup should be a meeting of the best teams the planet has to offer, and instead there will be mediocre teams that somehow ‘do not deserve’ to be there.

I am sorry, but this is nonsense.

The World Cup is not like the Olympics where every nation has the possibility to participate.  There is a qualifying process which is already skewed.

The World Cup is not a competition of the best teams in the world.  Is a competition between the best teams from each confederation. And where there are two confederations which have the strongest teams: Europe and South America.

This makes qualification in those two confederations much harder.  Netherlands did not qualify for 1982 world cup while New Zealand did. Argentina may risk qualifying for Russia but we may see Panama there. In all the World Cups Australia failed to qualify arguably there were worse teams than us playing.   There is no level playing field.

The level of football has increased throughout the world and this means that it is unlikely to be really hopeless teams among the 48 teams.

Look at what teams a 48 World Cup would look like according to current rankings.  It’s not bad.  I don’t see many that would be totally overwhelmed.

So let’s have more people at the party.  I think it will be fun.

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