In Europe generally and Spain more specifically, the previous season’s winners of the national cup competition (Real Madrid and the King’s Cup in this case) play the winners of the national league (Barcelona) in a one off game, in the Spanish case, home and away. This is the SuperCupa, good for filling the trophy case and for rubbing it in the face of the Madristas.
Messi playing for Barcelona is the best player in the world. Messi playing for Argentina is not Maradona. Club teams are forced to release players who are called up for national team duty. Botafogo’s porteiro, Jefferson, is the third string keeper for Brazil. He’ll never see the field, yet he gets called up for every friendly and qualifying match and Botafogo have some mão de alface (lettuce hands, one of my favorite Brazilian football expressions) minding the net.
The clubs are not compensated for giving away their best players for days, weeks, or months at a time, nor are they compensated if the player returns injured, crippled, or drunk (as has recently been the case with Fred at Fluminense, not to mention Adriano, coitado). FIFA determines the days set aside for international matches (friendlies or qualifiers) and tournaments. The clubs are told by national federations which players they “have” to release and the players trundle off to do their duty. The players get paid by the national federation for international appearances and there are likely some tidy bonuses thrown about when medals get hung around sweaty necks.
FIFA controls this from their buzzard’s perch in Switzerland. If you’re reading this blog I’m going to assume that you know about FIFA. National Football Federations or Associations are given membership in FIFA based on a two year affiliation with a regional confederation (FIFA divides the world into six regions, Europe - UEFA, Asia - AFA , Oceania - BOTO, Africa - CAF, South America- CONMEBOL, North and Central America + Caribbean - CONCACAF). Then they have to write a letter to the Secretary General of FIFA who decides, alone, if a country’s association is worthy of FIFA membership. There are 207 current members, with one vote each, organized and orchestrated through FIFA’s regional divisions. This very structure is a machine that generates corruption.
There are 32 spots available for the Men’s World Cup, unevenly distributed. FIFA allots 13 World Cup berths for European nations. 53 teams are sorted into 9 qualifying groups, the winners of which qualify directly for the World Cup while the 8 best second place teams will play a home and away series with the aggregate winners coming to Brazil. Africa will have 5 teams for the 2014 Cup following two rounds of qualifying. The 24 lowest ranked teams will play each other in a group round robin format before being placed in five qualifying groups that the highest ranked teams will join in. South America and Asia receive 4.5 berths each. This means that the fifth placed teams in each region will play each other for the right to go to Brazil. The same hold true of North and Central America and the Caribbean which has 3.5 berths to Oceania’s .5. Since Australia defied geology by leaving Oceania and heading to Asia, FIFA took away the automatic qualifying from that region putting the winner of qualifying in a playoff against Honduras or Costa Rica (perpetual 3rd or 4th placers in the CONCACAF region). Boring if you already know it.
The Draw that took place in Rio on the 30th of July, which met with a very healthy protest led by the Comitê Popular da Copa and the Associação Nacional dos Torcedores, defined the qualifying groups for the World Cup. But now, the European national leagues are starting up again while the Brazilian and North American leagues (among others) are in mid-season.
This of course, is only dealing with men’s football. Women’s football is similar, though on a much smaller scale. Brazil has no functional women’s league, though many women play and there are nascent professional structures. The USA has a women’s league that appears to be healthy, though limited in geographic reach. There are no doubt fine places to read about that and I welcome any sugestõezinhas.
Right, that’s it for the football. Here’s a list of some good books:
Brilliant Orange, David Winner
The Ball is Round, David Goldblatt
Inventing the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson
Foul!, Andrew Jennings
Would welcome additions for a reader bibliography that could be posted and shared on Zotero.com