November 30th, 2009
05:29 PM ET

I'm not on Ireland's side this time

The Republic of Ireland’s request for an extra berth in next year’s World Cup finals is perfectly understandable given FIFA's harsh ruling on their demand for a play-off replay with France, but I can’t say I’m in favor of it succeeding.

Thierry Henry and the offending handball.
Thierry Henry and the offending handball.

Yes, I know that FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his cohorts have said they will give it due consideration, along with Costa Rica’s bid for inclusion in the wake of a dubious goal by Uruguay in their play-off, but I think to expand the finals from 32 teams to 34 would be bad for the tournament.

When I first started watching the World Cup it had only 16 teams; the Finals lasted barely three weeks; and being part of that elite group carried massive prestige because the number of finalists was so small.

The limited entry also allowed us, as fans, to get to know the players, and personalities, and the character of each team, so that Pak Doo Ik of North Korea carried as big a wow factor as a more familiar name like Bobby Charlton or Pele.

For three weeks we were cocooned in a football dome full of high intensity and a special kind of magic that came from the real or imagined spectacle of seeing the best tackle the best.

Contrast that with 2010, when 32 nations will take part in an amorphous tournament lasting just over a month, featuring several teams that would not have made it had they been located in a stronger geographic qualifying region, and involving so many players and personalities that it will be a full-time job keeping track of who’s who and what this match means to that.

Not that I’m deriding the tournament. It’s still the greatest show on Earth for football fans like myself, but it has become a victim of its own success.

It’s now too big in my opinion, with the result that some of the passion, intensity, and cache of being involved as a player, coach, and fan has been diluted.

And now they’re apparently considering extending the tournament to 34 teams? Lunacy! That would be a logistical nightmare for the organizers; unfair to the 31 teams (aside from France) who got there legitimately; and supremely unjust to the unfortunate nations drawn in the two groups of five from which only two would advance to the second phase.

And not only that, like the summer Olympics and the European Champions League the aura of the competition would be further diminished for the fans, because, for me, you can have too much of a good thing.

So, sorry Republic of Ireland, I was fully behind your quest for a replay of the game with France, but I can’t back this one, for the simple reason that sometimes less is more.    

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Filed under:  Football
November 30th, 2009
11:11 AM ET

Woods is only human

The news that Tiger Woods crashed his car has caused shock around the world - the act seemingly so inconceivable for a man who has historically demonstrated such power of control as a driver. But surely it is unfair to expect perfection both on and off the golf course?

The intrigue generated by a figure, so famed for inch-perfect precision of movement, driving an SUV into a fire hydrant and then a tree has proved a powerful draw to global consumers of news; initially through fear that an iconic figure of our times had been seriously hurt, then through curiosity that the machine-like forger of fortune had revealed himself as a human capable of mistake after all.

Woods is a living legend whose track record at times defies belief. Since turning professional in 1996, the Floridian has dominated his sport so comprehensively that his legend has transcended the discipline of fairways and greens to make him one of the most famous men on the planet.

It's not just his sporting achievements that set him apart - at just 33-years-old his record of 14 Major-wins leaves him just four short of the all-time record set by Jack Nicklaus - it is also the manner of his victories and the public persona that has been built around such success.

So appealing is his image to corporate association that he has become the biggest-earning sportsman on the planet, bringing in an annual estimated income of $110 million.

There are fairy-tales and there's the Tiger tale, and up to the point Woods drove his vehicle from the road, the latter modern-day fable had proved more compelling. So the illusion of perfection has been shattered - but is this a bad thing, and does it reduce the power of Woods' story? Well, no.

The image of Woods, like any, is a projection and not a reality; a persona kept clean and free of controversy to maximize the revenue-generating potential of a legendary sporting talent. In many ways, you can't see the Woods for the artificial trees.

So the contrived image has been cracked, but what human - especially one under such pressure to deliver - could have upheld the perfect picture for as long? And is it a surprise that something different lies underneath?

Whatever the cause behind the crash, Woods has at last shown he's a mere mortal who, though blessed with supreme talent, has personal ups-and-downs like the rest of us.

The story may have developments yet but the remarkable record of Tiger's accomplishments will go down in history regardless of his less-than-impressive track-record with Thanksgiving transportation.

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Filed under:  Golf