Those preliminary matters include getting rid of most miniscule minnows in all of FIFA...you know...the ones who have more sway in the organization's boardrooms and backrooms than on the pitch. Their votes count in presidential elections...their athletes...eh, not so much.
Last night we got started with Belize topping Montserrat 5-2. I know what you're thinking: How could Montserrat lose? Well, let me ask you, if you lived in the place pictured at right...would your first concern be playing futbol...or avoiding volcanic ash and enjoying the sunshine?
At any rate. Belize V. Montserrat is only one of the preliminary games before the draw, the bigger issues are afoot in Asia where the 38 lowest rated teams play home-and-home playoffs to determine the lucky few who will get whomped by medium-sized talents in Bahrain and China...or if you're really lucky...Australia! (eep!) some of these will be all over by July 3rd, others won't even have the first leg start until July 23rd, wrapping up matches two days before the initial draw in Rio.
Whenever I watch or think about these games, I think of the Royal Rumbles I used to watch when I was a kid. If you watch pro wrestling you know what happens, put a bunch of guys in a small space and watch as one by one they throw each other over the side. No one wins anything...just a shot at the title. Only in this case, instead of sweaty men pretending that people believe they really are diabolical morticians or hip-hop heavyweights, there's a bunch of sweaty men pretending that they actually have a shot at the world title (it's adorable!).
The biggest matches kick-off around July 23rd with former World Cup contestants Iran, Saudi Arabia rising threat Uzbekistan and ex-Asian Champ Iraq in action. It's unlikely that they lose to their opponents (the Maldives, Hong Kong, Kyrgystan and Yemen respectively)...but like the Royal Rumble you never really know until it's underway. (Sure Iran's the Randy Macho Man Savage of Asian futbol...but Macho Man is gone...maybe Iran's doomed for the same fate?)
Through all the action we'll try to give a quick update, including quick adieus to each team as they bow out (it may only be a paragraph but it's the least we can do to honor the players, fans and delusional gamblers who thought they might have a shot).
Check back for more news later, after all, you never know when I'm going to randomly connect Randy Savage and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.