For reasons I can’t quite grasp, I enjoy watching the FIFA World Cup more than any other sporting event. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the most-watched sporting event (and, quite, possibly, any event) in the world. The final is as close as I’ll probably ever get to the shared experience of the Moon landing. Or maybe it’s just that the football/soccer is terrific, and the stakes are as high as they get.
It’s got nothing to do with national pride, because Canada’s men’s team has only ever qualified once, in 1986. They were knocked out in the earliest ‘group phase’, and in fact never scored a goal. I live in hope that they’ll at least make it back to the World Cup in my lifetime.
For those unfamiliar with the tournament, 32 national teams qualify. This time around, those 32 are whittled down through regional competitions from 204 member nations over a year and a half leading up to the World Cup finals. Here’s where they come from:
- Europe: 13 places
- Africa: 5 places (and South Africa, the host nation)
- South America: 4 or 5 places
- Asia: 4 or 5 places
- North, Central American and Caribbean: 3 or 4 places
- Oceania: 0 or 1 place
The selection process is incredibly baroque–it’s worthy of a Common Craft video. However, this Wikipedia article does an exquisite job of laying out all the permutations, and staying up to date with the ongoing matches. If you’re supporting a particular nation, or are remotely interested in the competition, this (combined, perhaps, with the newly-revamped FootyTube) is a terrific way to keep abreast of each nation’s shifting fortunes.
To answer my own question, as of today, only five teams have qualified for the tournament: Australia, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands and the hosts, South Africa.
A quick OCD aside: there are actually 208 FIFA members–Brunei, Laos, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines failed to register for the tournament. Wikipedia lists 203 sovereign states, so now I’m curious about the members on the FIFA list who aren’t on the list of sovereign states (and vice versa). A few examples of non-countries on FIFA’s list include the Faroe Islands, Palestine and Bermuda. I’d be curious to find an exhaustive comparison of the two lists.