By way of introduction, I would like to begin by saying that my view of professional athletes in general is that they are usually grossly overpaid and like most professional entertainers have an overly inflated view of their importance and worth to society and of the value and worth of their opinions and the worthiness of the example of their usually disordered lives. Be that as it may, it is clear that some athletics are far more important in certain societies than in others.
Far more than most Americans, it seems, I am a fan of international soccer (which, I am well aware, most people call football). Today was the beginning of the last open window for the main qualifying for this year’s World Cup, and there were quite a few important games played today that have some interesting consequences. Saudi Arabia, for example, secured a spot in the World Cup by drawing away at China while Japan did likewise by winning away at Australia. Those two teams certainly took care of business. Australia, by losing at home to Japan, did not take care of business and now must await the other third-place team from Asia for a chance to play the 5th place South American team, which is going to be a tough game to win. Still, it should at least be favored against whatever Asian team it plays.
In South America there were four games played tonight. Brazil destroyed Chile, almost eliminating them altogether 4-0. Colombia beat Bolivia 3-0 and put itself in a position where it can qualify on the last game. Similarly, Uruguay clinched a spot with a win against Peru and Ecuador clinched a spot despite losing against Paraguay. Those teams did what they had to do, which is book a ticket to the World Cup. As it is, Peru, Colombia, and Chile are fighting for that 5th place spot and the chance to play the best third-place team out of Asia. Argentina plays Venezuela tomorrow in game that doesn’t really matter to either team since Argentina has clinched a spot and Venezuela has been eliminated, just as Argentina has a game to make up against Brazil that doesn’t really matter since both of those teams have already booked their spot in Qatar.
In the CONCACAF Octagonal, there were four games tonight as well. Three of the four games ended up in a draw: the United States tied 0-0 at Mexico for a draw that should have been a win but was still a good result given the difficulty of playing at Mexico (usually). Panama tied at home to Honduras, which was a disastrous result for them because it put them behind Costa Rica in the battle for 4th place, which would be good enough to play the winner of Oceania for a spot in the World Cup. Jamaica tied El Salvador 1-1, but both teams have been eliminated so the game did not matter so much. Finally, Costa Rica beat Canada 1-0, which doesn’t affect Canada (who is very likely to go through to the World Cup anyway), and gives puts Costa Rica ahead of Panama for 4th place.
Lest we forget Oceania because of its measly 0.5 spots in the World Cup, they also played today in three games, leading to a playoff in a tournament in Qatar where the following four teams will play for the right to a playoff match against the 4th place North American team: New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (who both won their games today, New Zealand getting a 7-1 win over New Caledonia), as well as Solomon Islands and Tahiti, who won their half of the continental playoffs in a walkover after Cook Islands and Vanuatu cancelled due to problems of Covid outbreaks in their teams.
Finally, we end up in Europe, which had some consequential games. Wales won in order to set up a final for a spot where it will play the winner of Scotland and Ukraine for a spot in the World Cup in June. Poland (who win in a walk-over when Russia was thrown out) will play Sweden for another spot. And for the third European slot we have Portugal playing North Macedonia, who defeated Italy 1-0, in perhaps the most shocking example today of a team not taking care of business. Italy has now missed out on the last two World Cups despite playing in the most favorable of all regions, with multiple paths to gaining that elusive World Cup slot and being among the European powers. To lose at home to North Macedonia with a chance at a World Cup appearance is pretty shocking, and might have some severe consequences for Italy given how soccer mad their nation is. It’s one thing to lose in a playoff final to Portugal, but it’s entirely another to miss it altogether by losing to a nation on the level of North Macedonia while nations like Wales and Poland are booking their spots to playoff finals.