Wednesday 4 March ~
It would be hard to find two words that do less to set pulses racing in world football (or world anything) than “Kuwait” and “Canberra". Yet tomorrow (Thursday night Australian time) the less-than-thrilling gulf state's team will be in the much-maligned capital of Australia for an Asian Cup qualifier that may assume slightly more significance in years to come than it seems to hold now. Once countries decide they are serious about staging the World Cup, everything begins to count. And while Australia's chances of hosting in 2018 or 2022 ultimately hinge on the intricacies of world football politics, it certainly does not hurt to stage convincing showcases in diverse venues against countries that may prove influential in regional power-plays.
Australia seems certain to stage the 2015 Asian Cup (2011 is in Qatar), and although the decision on World Cup hosting will be made long before then, the fact that it has a regional tournament lined up is itself a handy addition to the CV. Canberra is unlikely to be a venue in 2015, when eight, six or even four stadiums would be enough to stage the 16-team tournament. And if Canberra Stadium, which now holds 25,000, were pressed into service for the World Cup bid, you would suspect it may be in trouble. There's nothing wrong with the stadium that a few million dollars wouldn't fix, but don't forget July is midwinter in Australia, and the capital is notoriously chilly, as its rugby league players often have good cause to lament.
More to the point is that matches such as tomorrow's give a potential host the chance to show general enthusiasm for the game around the country, good organisation and good facilities. More than 13,000 tickets had been sold earlier in the week for the first appearance of the Socceroos in the national capital since 1996, a resounding show of faith given that Australia's coach, Pim Verbeek, has been busily disparaging the quality of the A-League, whose players will make up the entire squad against Kuwait. Verbeek's teams, both “local” and “international”, have struggled to rise above prosaic competence in recent matches, although World Cup qualification is all but certain (the Asian Cup campaign began with an undistinguished 0-0 in Indonesia).
Trinidad's ineffable Jack Warner outlined some surprising criteria for World Cup credibility this week, saying: “England has the ability and means to surpass other countries in the bidding. Only one country has Manchester United, David Beckham and Richard Scudamore.” That may be so, but how do you measure the value of Richard Scudamore against 15-20,000 football-starved Canberrans turning out on a Thursday night to watch their second-string national team play Kuwait? Australia are 8-1 with some bookmakers. After carefully weighing Warner's views, I'm considering a small investment. Mike Ticher