From all that has been reported, Robert Mueller hasn’t found evidence of Russian collusion. However, I have. Not with Donald Trump but with FIFA, the hyper-corrupt body that runs world soccer.
In the preliminary stage of the World Cup, host-nation Russia is grouped with Uruguay, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Following round-robin play, the top two teams in this group will advance to the Round of 16.
FiveThirtyEight calls Russia’s group the easiest in World Cup history. An exaggeration? Maybe. But I’ve been following the World Cup avidly since 1978 and can’t recall a weaker group.
The host nation almost always gets placed in a relatively weak group, but never one this weak. Russia was placed in a “pot” that ensured no powerhouse would appear in its group. After that, the group was determined by a draw.
Did Russia just get lucky with the draw? Perhaps. But we’re talking about FIFA here, so perhaps not.
Not only did Russia get “lucky” with its group, its schedule is also favorable. The Russian team has been dreadful every time I’ve seen it play. It needs an easy first match to gain confidence.
Presto! Russia plays Saudi Arabia in the opener. No one knows for sure how good or bad the Saudis are, but on paper they are the weakest team in the group and arguably in the entire tournament.
A Russia-Saudi Arabia opener is bad for the tournament. Again, no one knows for sure how the match will play out — maybe the Saudis will play an exciting brand of soccer. But chances are the match will be either dull, poor in quality, or both.
Such a match would turn off casual fans who tune in for the opener. That’s why FIFA has always tried to avoid openers with no good team. At one time, the defending champion appeared in the opener. Germany played the opener in 1994 when the U.S. hosted the tournament. Brazil opened the tournament in 1998.
Nowadays, the host nation plays the opener. But FIFA has managed to produce first matches featuring at least one good team even when the host isn’t strong. Thus, in 2010, when South Africa hosted, it faced a strong Mexican team in the first game.
This year Russia plays the weakest team in the group (on paper).
IN RELATED NEWS: The Washington Post discusses the twin scourges of Russian soccer — racism and hooliganism. Why did FIFA award the World Cup to such a nation? “Follow the money” is my guess.
I don’t expect hooliganism to plague this World Cup. That’s the one advantage of awarding the Cup to a police state.
As for racism, Russia has been fined several times for the racist behavior of its fans. The French team, which is one of the favorites to win the Cup, was bombarded with racist chants during a match in St. Petersburg not long ago.
For the first time in history, referees will have the power to stop a match if there are racist chants or slurs. Of course, the referee won’t know whether a Russian chant is racist and I’d be surprised if anyone is going to embarrass Putin by causing a referee to interrupt or call off a game due to chanting.
Frankly, a match shouldn’t be interrupted or called off for that reason. The solution would have been not to award the World Cup to a nation like Russia in the first place.