Gracious Hosts

At the international level, what qualities must the perfect host possess? Accessibility, safety and modern stadiums certainly should be primary criteria.

At the international level, what qualities must the perfect host possess?

Accessibility, safety and modern stadiums certainly should be primary criteria.

A passionate fan base helps.

However, if an automatic qualifying berth goes with hosting a major tournament, shouldn’t the national team’s competitiveness also be considered?

The European Championships have now reached the quarterfinal stage, and both co-hosts have already been eliminated, to no one’s surprise. Switzerland and Austria are beautiful destinations and both have qualified for Euros and World Cups past.

But this time around, their teams didn’t belong. And maybe it’s because they went soft following a two-year diet of friendlies.

Austria has qualified for seven World Cup final tournaments, although none since 1998. They rank 92nd in the world and 42nd in Europe. Until they beat lowly Malta last month, the Austrians had gone winless in their previous eight matches against continental opposition.

Mind you, those were all exhibitions. Not a single shot on goal was fired in anger.

Rated 44th by FIFA (and, yes, those rankings tend to be greatly flawed), Switzerland is not among the Euro elite. Still, the Swiss salvaged some pride by beating Portugal in a meaningless final group game.

Back in the day perhaps the Euro or World Cup finals needed a home country involved to help fill seats or create a buzz. But in modern times there is no longer the need to follow ceremony. If the host nation is expected to be competitive, the best way to prepare is through competitive contests such as the qualifying process.

With nations now sharing the responsibilities of hosting these huge events it seems archaic to allow two of 16 slots to simply be handed over to a pair of subpar and untested national sides. Not only should the hosts play qualifying games, but perhaps they should also finish among the top four in their group.

In 2012, the Euro moves to Poland and Ukraine, two teams on the outer fringe of the UEFA top 20. Obviously, it would be great if the Poles and Ukrainians can show they belong and, what’s more, lift the spirits and capture the imagination of their countrymen.

Everyone would love to see that. Yet wouldn’t they both be better served by earning their way to the Euro 2012 or, at the very least, playing the intense schedule of qualifying games to which their guests are subjected?

South Africa, set to host the 2010 World Cup, is guaranteed a berth. Still, they will compete in the Africa qualifying stages. That will undoubtedly help South Africa steel itself for the battle which lies ahead.

If Switzerland and Austria had gone through the paces of Euro qualifying, who knows, maybe they would still be alive and kicking into the quarters.

Nothing in life comes cheaply any more. So why should international soccer be any different?

Hunters Become Hunted


Since 1996, the Seattle Sounders have shown an appetite for devouring giants in the U.S. Open Cup. Next week, they face a club which is just as hungry and very dangerous.

Hollywood United travels to Tukwila’s Starfire Sports Complex on Tuesday evening to meet the Sounders in a second round match. United upset the Portland Timbers, 3-2, on the road in the first round and the amateur club is no lightweight.

The club was founded some 20 years ago by some transplanted L.A. area British musicians, and today the chairman is actor Anthony LaPaglia, star of the TV series Without a Trace. LaPaglia plays on the United over-30 side, as have such entertainment notables as Dermot Mulroney, Ziggy Marley and ex-U.S. internationals Eric Wynalda and John Harkes.

The Open Cup team doesn’t pack as much punch in name familiarity, yet there’s professional pedigree. The lineup includes a handful of ex-MLS veterans, including UW alum Jason Boyce.

Last summer the Sounders beat two MLS teams before being eliminated in the semifinals by Dallas in overtime. Now they themselves are in Hollywood’s crosshairs.

The winner of Tuesday’s match advances to face Chivas USA in the third round July 1.

All Nations Finals


Can’t wait ‘til next week for some live action? Then Starfire is the place to be this weekend.

The Sounders return home Friday night (June 20) at 7 to host the Miami FC Blues. Seattle is unbeaten at home this season.

This weekend also marks the conclusion of the fifth annual All Nations Cup. You can catch the Masters Final, which begins at 8:30 Friday, on your way out of the Sounders match. Let the parking lot clear out while you root for the ol’ guys.

The event then ends with a bang. Sunday night (June 22) features the ANC Championship Game at 7:30, followed by the closing celebration, live music and a fireworks show.

Turn On, Tune In


For those of you without cable or dish service, rejoice! Euro 2008 comes to the rabbit ears via ABC on Saturday (11:30 a.m.) with the dynamite Dutch facing Russia. The last of the quarterfinals is Sunday (11:30, ESPN) with traditional powers Spain and Italy meeting.

Semifinals are Wednesday (ESPN) and Thursday (ESPN2) at 11:30.

On the anti-climactic side of things, the USA visits Barbados in the second leg of World Cup qualifying Sunday (11:55 a.m., ESPN Classic). Six starters from last week’s 8-0 first-leg blowout have been released by coach Bob Bradley.

From the MLS docket, the Saturday night (6:30) game on HDNet features the only team not to have drawn (Colorado) hosting the club with the most ties (5), Houston. Next Thursday (6 p.m.) on ESPN2, the Dynamo entertain Dallas in the Texas derby.

Throw-Ins


In the second game of the twin bill next Tuesday at Starfire, the Sounders women face the perfect Pali (Pacific Palisades) Blues at 9…Hope Solo and the USA national team will play Canada in Saturday’s Peace Cup final in South Korea. Solo blanked Brazil in the two teams’ first rematch since the World Cup semifinals. Canada is the only team to earn a point off the USA this year…The top boys and girls teams from throughout Washington vie for national berths this weekend in Honolulu at the USYSA Region IV Championships…A summer-long slate of Seattle Sounders soccer camps begins next Monday (June 23). To sign-up for half or full-day sessions in your neighborhood, see http://www.seattlesounders.net/soccercamps.php…The two-legged Libertadores Cup final begins June 25 in Quito, Ecuador. LDU and Rio’s Fluminense will play the return leg July 2 at the Maracana to determine South America’s club champion…The USL First Division effectively loses Seattle to MLS next season, but picks up a replacement in Tampa, home to the USL offices and the MLS Mutiny from 1996-01…As for the MLS expansion efforts north of the border in B.C., basketball star and Victoria native Steve Nash is reportedly ready to get involved with the Vancouver bid. Steve’s younger brother, Martin, plays for the Whitecaps.

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