I don’t profess to be a soccer fan. I watch the sport once every four years, just for the World Cup. I don’t say “match” or “footie” or “pitch” or “training” or “nil.” And, like anyone remotely tied to hockey, I cringe whenever I see stuff like this:
I do, however, respect ‘The Beautiful Game’ immensely. The tradition behind it, the passion, and the magnitude of the settings and venues are first-class. I get it into it enough that I watch the games and notice hockey parallels, such as England being the Toronto Maple Leafs of the World Cup. Massive, delusional fan base, massive hype, massive disappointment every time they play under pressure. I pointed this out to troll my friend’s crotchety British dad and he retorted with: “How many play in your sport, 10? You need to travel outside Canada. There is a whole world. You’re a sad boy, no team to support.”
It got me thinking. Is he right? Probably. The IIHF barely scrapes together 12 teams for the Olympic tournament. That said, it’s not like the No. 32 team at the FIFA World Cup, or the 20th-ranked team, for that matter, has a hope in Hell. What would a 32-team hockey tournament look like? Would the quality of play be respectable if it followed FIFA’s zany selection process precisely?
I present to you a mock IIHF World Cup of Hockey, following a soccer format.