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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Errors, Idiocies and Quirks

With one bound they were free. Tottenham Hotspur, who have lived this season in the shadow of a six point penalty and thus possible relegation, are now in the clear -- thanks to a change of heart by the Football Association.


And so yet another inglorious chapter is added to the history of wise and consistent decision-making by football administrators. The FA did not make this move, you will notice, because allegations against Spurs were false or exaggerated; nor because some fearful miscarriage of justice was being done. No, it simply decided, correctly in my view, that the six-point penalty and ban from the FA Cup was out of proportion to the original sin -- that of "irregular" (i.e. illicit) transfer payments. Instead the club must now pay a fine of $2.34 million, an unwelcome but hardly fatal blow to a multimillion-dollar public company.


One dreads to think what contortions they will perform when it comes to passing judgment on the bribery allegations against Bruce Grobbelaar. What will they do with him? Order his hands to be cut off at the wrists, and then sewn back on several months later?


Speaking of idiocy, if you like a good laugh and have run out of P.G. Wodehouse books, Eddie Murphy videos and Moscow supermarket receipts, let me recommend to you a first-rate rib-tickler. Aching sides and clinical hysteria are not absolutely guaranteed, but if its smiles and chuckles you want you could do a lot worse than spend an evening with the FIFA world rankings.


From Brazil in first place to St Nevis and Kitts in 173rd, there's a laugh a line, and the joke is: the wretched document is meant to be taken seriously. That is why, presumably, Coca Cola, an organization that thinks nothing of spending millions making its logo a millimeter thicker on the cans, underwrites the entire cost of the rankings. Having examined them, I reckon it must be costing the makers of the fizzy nectar at least $3.50 a month. And I'm not sure its worth all that expense.


Take Wales, for instance. Something the Moldovans did recently, to the tune of 5-0. And yet the east Europeans were ranked fully 102 places beneath the Welshmen, behind such soccer superpowers as Panama, Sri Lanka, Nepal and somewhere called Guinea-Bissau (a free Moscow Times T-shirt to anyone who can name one of its latest squad).


Now the point of observing these absurdities (and there are more to come) is not to berate FIFA but to sympathize with it. For the rankings' shortcomings illustrate not defective brainpower by the compilers, but the difficulty of producing any reliable guide to international form at present.


If you consider the recent Asian Games tournament and the current European Championship, you can see that this year marked the beginning of perhaps the most exciting period in world soccer. The former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe may have begun to split up politically a few years ago, but only now are we seeing the impact in soccer.


Two months ago Uzbekistan was not even in the rankings (technically making it a lower form of sporting life than the Cape Verde Islands). The reason was that it had never played an international match. Then it went to the Asian Games and beat World Cup standouts Saudia Arabia 4-1 before winning the final against China. Turkmenistan also reached the quarterfinals, despite both its goalkeepers missing the team plane and the first match.


Then there are the Czech Republic and Croatia, who may be ranked at 35 and 73 respectively, but are both topping their groups in the European Championship. The Croatians in particular are a study, and not just because they were this column's tip to be a dark-horse qualifier.


Superficially, this is a new nation that plays in silly checkered shirts and whose country is churned up by war. But seven years ago, when the then-Yugoslavia won the World Youth Championship, the majority were Croatian-born, among them the brilliant playmakers Robert Prosinecki and Zvonimir Boban, defender Robert Jarni and striker Darov Suker. This is the kind of buried treasure, exhibited most recently in the Croatians' stunning of Italy, now being unearthed by the new nations taking to the field. FIFA has now re-admitted a reconstituted Yugoslavia (actually a sort of Serbian/Montenegran combined XI).


If it is given the free berth that exists in the European Championship who knows what surprises it will inflict. And when Ukraine and Georgia get their acts together, they too could potentially perform in the way that Romania and Bulgaria did in the World Cup.