POTP Cup of Nations Where Football Isn’t The Most Popular Sport #1

We recently came across this delightful map highlighting the world’s favourite sports by country. Naturally football is number one across most of the globe, but, given our nature, the map got us thinking about the countries where this is not the case and how these nation’s teams might do in a vacuumous World Cup against only each other.

A few quick searches for “FIFA Road to World Cup 98” emulators – we settled on a Sega Megadrive version after some technical difficulties – and a “tournament creator” – this was surprisingly harder to source – later and we had ourselves a tournament. The fact that unlocking an actual World Cup in the game meant completing a full qualifying campaign, after which we couldn’t remember if you even could create your own custom cup, meant that it was necessary to keep track of our own competition rather than in-game, but using FIFA 98’s great database of every nation from it’s time to simulate the matches.

Background

There are currently about 35 countries where football is not the nation’s most popular sport, with a spread of baseball, cricket, rugby, basketball, ice hockey, wrestling, AFL (not in Australia) and Gaelic football taking top spot instead.

As several are very small states, and others hold less of a football tradition than others, we decided upon a World Cup 94-esq 24 team tournament of 6 first round groups and a knock-out stage. Unlike the map referenced in the intro, Austria has been removed due to football’s apparent real domination in the country and replaced by Wales, who had been overlooked due to officially being part of the UK.

The Draw

We divided the 24 “qualifiers” into four pots for seeding, roughly based on all-time football prestige with a bit of guess work. A random number generator was then used to make the draw for the six groups, from which the top two in each and four best third place sides would progress:

Some minor reshuffling was also needed to assure that as many groups as possible were made of up of teams from different regions. Groups 2 and 3 ended up with two countries from the same zone, in USA + Nicaragua and Canada + Cuba, but this was necessary as eight CONCACAF representatives were present overall.

POTP Cup of Nations Where Football Isn’t The Most Popular Sport

Group 1 – Matchday 1:

The competition opened with Latvia – who, as the only Baltic side to have made it to a major tournament via Euro 2004, might have felt hard done by to be seeded in Pot 3 behind neighbours Estonia in Pot 2 (although Estonia are 34 places ahead of Latvia in the FIFA world rankings at the time of writing) – taking on two-time World Cup attendees New Zealand. The Latvians evidentially forgot their kits and borrowed Lithuania’s:

Despite this, a gulf in the sides was clear but not how the seeding had suggested, with Latvia’s magnificent midfield maestro Rimku taking control of the game and scoring twice in either half to secure the points:

Before the end, this down on their luck New Zealand had resorted to dirty tactics, with the referee forced to take action here as one player first trips an opponent and then stands on him:

In the other Group 1 game, top seeds Japan faced Puerto Rico…:

…with a massive and eager crowd watching on:

The Japanese took the lead early before the minnows unexpectedly equalised, queuing wild celebrations including one impressive somersault (yes, everybody is unfortunately Aryan in this game, we’ll just keep on ignoring that from now on):

But two strikes from hitman Kitazawa after the break secured a routine win for Japan as expected. Both they and Latvia already looking good for progression to the next round:

Group 2 – Matchday 1:

The United States opened their campaign taking on Estonia, wearing a fabulous golden attire:

And the Americans “struck gold” through Wynalda mid-way through the first half with a fine strike from just the outside of the box:

Followed by a C. Jones volley to make it 2-0 before the break:

USA weren’t to have it all their own way, however, as Zelinski scored to set up a tense finale:

But Jones showed his determination in the final moments to outwit the keeper in an aerial battle and score, making it 3-1:

The first match in the competition to feature two sides to never make it to a World Cup, at least in football, was next as Nicaragua took on Tonga:

The Central American’s forward J. Bermudez capitalised on the Tonaganese’ weak marking to score a wonder-goal from outside the box earlier on:

A nice team move, finished by Bendana, made it 2-0 before half-time:

With amazing noise and support from the Nicaraguans in the crowd, another from Bermudez in the second half made it three, finalising the victory and the first clean sheet of the cup:

Group 3 – Matchday 1:

One of the tournament favourites, Wales, faced one of the weakest sides next in Pakistan, who’s red and white shirts caused quite the kit clash:

But the first half proved to be one of the hardest fought so far, with Pakistanis earning a stalemate going into the break:

The Europeans quality shone through in the second half though, first with a goal from Rush.Pakistan did have a great chance to equalise, but a late one from Hughes made sure of the three points:

Also in Group 3 came one of the most interesting ties of the first round, with the “C Match-up” – Canada vs Cuba, capitalism vs communism, the CONCACAF derby. Like several teams, Cuba are not wearing their national colours but a fetching yellow and blue ensemble:

This was another contest where the lower seeds, Cuba, went into the game as slight favourites. A huge crowd of their supporters were present for the historic occasion:

Mid-way through the first half Bobadilla opened the scoring for the islanders, seen here flat on his face after falling while celebrating:

In the second half the game turned nasty as a Cuban penalty appeal was turned down. Possibly in retaliation, a Canadian player was injured in a tackle soon afterwards and a card given out:

One other unusual aspect here was that the Cuban goalkeeper was wearing the same strip as the outfielders, seen here standing with his back to the camera to the right of the goalpost:

With Canada putting on the pressure late on, Cuba broke on the counter and wrapped up the win through the carded man Darcourt:

A Canadian consolation goal did come in the final moments, with scorer Bunbury earning a man of the match award despite being on the losing side. Before the full-time whistle there was also time for one last piece of hatchery:

Group 4 – Matchday 1:

Group 4 presented one of the more even match-ups of the first series as China faced Lithuania:

Scoreless at the break, the Lithuanians were able to take advantage of a slip up in defence early in the second half and lead through a Zotvatus strike:

With virtually the last kick of the game though, Ning popped up out of nowhere in the Lithuanian box and sent the ball net-wards:

A fair 1-1 draw, the first of the tournament, was the final score:

The other game proved a similarly level encounter between The Bahamas, in red, and Australia:

An early highlight was this magnificent save from Australian ‘keeper Bosnich:

This was swiftly followed by a huge kick out from said ‘keeper that went all the way to other box where an attacker was fouled:

Penalty to Australia…but it’s saved!:

A rather violent period of the game followed with several yellow cards handed out, including this foul which led to Bahamas attacker Heaney having to be taken off injured just before half-time:

In the second half The Bahamas had the best of the chances, including two missed one-one-ones that they were left to rue:

The first scoreless draw of the Cup was played out, leaving Group 4 in quite an intriguing positing going into the next set of games:

Bosnich’s performance was recognised with a Man of the Match award and title of “Super Goalie”:

Group 5 – Matchday 1:

Group 5 immediately looked set to be far more clear cut than Group 4, as Venezuela – the one South American country where football was not king, thanks to baseball – took on the Philippines:

Even as the traditionally weakest South American team, the divide in quality between the sides here was quickly clear, with two Venezuelan goals early on:

By half-time it was already 5-0, including a hat-trick for Savarese:

Some were expecting double-figures, but the foot was taken off the Venezuelan gas for the second-half with just the one goal added to make it 6-0 by the end:

Garcia was the scorer of the last, sealing a second individual hat-trick for his side and eventually the Man of the Match award, having also hit the bar at one stage:

Meanwhile, top seeds Ireland got set to take on Panama, another of the “lower” sides tipped to potentially cause problems:

But within minutes Ireland were 1-0 through Staunton:

And a short while later Quinn latched on to a rebound to make it 2-0:

So far, the huge Irish contingent in the crowd were happy:

It was not all plain sailing though, first as Babb was taken out of the game after a horror tackler in his own box:

Followed by an OG from Kernaghan to make it 2-1 going into the interval:

However, the rest of the game remained scoreless much to Irish satisfaction, with only a couple more cynical fouls of note to report:

Group 6 – Matchday 1:

It might have been convenient for Group 6 to have been called Group F, since it kicked-off next with the match between Finland and Fiji:

Considered among the weaker of the highest ranked teams, the Finns nevertheless would have been confident against the lowly Fijians and Litmanen scored early to indicate an easy win:

But on the stroke of half-time, Nasema’s shot was blocked only to be knocked in on the rebound to make it 1-1:

Just as it seemed like the biggest shock-result of the opening games might be on the cards, Sumiala popped up in the Fiji box to connect with another rebound making it 2-1:

Despite a nervy few moments at the end for the Finns, 2-1 it stayed:

Finally for Matchday 1, part of the so-called “west indies”, Trinidad and Tobago, took on regular India:

In a rather lack-luster first half, the islanders took the lead through Nixon after a shot off the cross-bar left the ‘keeper in no-man-lands for the rebound:

Despite a couple more half chances for T&T, basically nothing else of note occurred in the second half, cementing Group 6 as the dullest group of the round:

Matchday 1 Reults:

Next time, the group stage continues with Matchday 2.

*****

 

 

 

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