The Women’s World Cup qualifying format is in urgent need of reform – here’s how
There could be 25 countries in level one, divided into five groups of five, and the lowest-ranked teams in level two, which could also be divided into five groups.
In an effort to create an example draw for the first level, here are the top 25 European nations currently divided into five groups:
Group A: Sweden, Iceland, Belgium, Finland, Wales
Group B: Germany, Spain, Austria, Czech Republic, Serbia
Group C: Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary
Group D: France, Norway, Scotland, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland
Group E: England, Denmark, Russia, Portugal, Romania
In this system, two teams from each of the level one groups above would automatically qualify, producing 10 of the qualifiers. The five third-ranked teams and the five fourth-ranked teams would compete in the play-offs, where they would join the five group winners from level two, as well as the top runner-up from level two. This, crucially, still gives every nation in the whole process a chance to qualify.
That would mean a 16-team play-off and from there, with a knockout format, you could then produce the other two teams needed (one that qualifies, plus another that goes in for the intercontinental play-offs, as is the case now).
I will not claim that there are also no flaws in this suggested system – for example, because the Fifa rankings would currently place, quite severely, Northern Ireland out of the top 25 teams in Europe, they would be at level two under this plan, despite its qualification for Euro 2022 with 16 teams.
And there are also still far too many games – the qualifying process is too long, and that’s another story.
But more importantly, a process like this would drastically reduce the chances that the Faroe Islands and Armenia would have to endure the indignity of the 10-0 defeats they suffered on Thursday, while England, Germany and other real contenders to continue and lift the Cup world will not waste time in needlessly beating amateur players.