The UEFA World Cup playoffs are a festival of underachievement and mediocrity

Bryn Lennon

The World Cup has more great international teams in one tournament than we've had for a long time. None of them are in the UEFA World Cup playoffs, and you'd do better than to watch the dregs of Europe scrap it out for the right to a dull early exit.

Most people on Twitter will, I imagine, have had the same experience with the official Sweden account. That is, they started following it when they somehow let a girl take control who started coming out with incredible levels of racism and ignorance, and since the ensuing tightening-up of the vetting process, have been ground down after many weeks of weak IKEA gags and boring discussions about dull food, still following in the hope it hits those old heights again.

The level of disinterest put out by the account every week is enough to make you nostalgic for the days of the Vikings, who were at least half-interesting and a lot less parochial. But what's the only thing that can sum up a national mindset and psyche better than an official Twitter account? That's right, a football team. And the parallels between the two when it comes to Sweden are, sadly, many. A collection of journeymen and dullards huffing around and failing to capture the imagination of the invested or the neutral.

Yes, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, of course. A man who, since Mario Balotelli returned to Milan, has taken over as the primary source of fake quotes and anecdotes to be attributed by South American football experts and FootyBanter accounts alike. It's amazing that most haven't tired of the same sad old routine by now, but at least we can mostly agree that he's a very good and entertaining footballer, and above all, someone who at least stands a reasonable chance of, well, doing something.

The problem with that is that, like all of tonight's games, it'll be an anomaly amid a sea of futility. None of these teams are going to win the World Cup. None of them are going to be the surprise package, or launch an unexpected giant-killing, or play surprisingly excellent football and delight neutrals. All of these teams have 'forgettable early knockout-stage exit of Mexico proportions' written all over them.

The slight exception to this is Iceland, always the thinking man's favourite Scandinavians, who have managed to cobble together a few decent performances to go with their few decent players. Qualifying for the World Cup would undoubtedly be a remarkable achievement for such a tiny nation, and good luck to 'em and all, but it is just qualification. "Congratulations! You now have the right to get a thorough shoeing by Spain and the supreme indignity of being comfortably beaten by the USA" isn't much to be partying in the streets of Fram about. At least promoted clubs get to bring some new guys in.

Instead of heroic overachievers though, the rest of the lineup is largely full of the opposite. We have a Croatia side that, along with their neighbours, appears to be the result of some dastardly pan-Yugoslavian plot to get the old country back together by enforcing cripplingly limited spreads of talent within each of its former member nations, leaving each of them with one component of an effective team (except Macedonia, who get Goran Pandev, the world's most frustrating footballers, as their star player. And people say English football is broken?)

Croatia are even a side that lost home and away to Scotland, and the last decent side to do that in a qualification campaign was France before the 2008 euros, where they went on to enjoy one of the all-time classic mildly disappointing displays, not good enough to get anyone excited, and not an entertaining meltdown like the 2002/2010 catastrophes. They're joined by Portugal, who seem to have become so irrevocably locked in a permanent state of terrible, dour displays that Helder Postiga has been kept eternally young in order to labour around heading forward balls out of touch for the past thirty years and eternity. Also in the pot: Ukraine, Romania, and the ultimate boring international team, Route One Royalty, Greece.

In all, it's a pretty awful lineup. None of these teams are going to excite anyone, and when your biggest potential for excitement is Iceland, and more people will be intrigued by Ireland vs. Latvia, it's a pretty bad sign. There are some genuinely great teams that will be taking part in Brazil, more potential winners in one tournament that we've had in a long time. The hosts, Argentina, Spain and Germany will all be favourites, but there's also Belgium and Colombia, who are too good to even be classed as dark horses, and the quietly excellent squad that Italy have put together. The prospects for a great tournament are very, very high - but none of them are lurking in the UEFA playoffs. Stick with Roy and Martin.

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