Bottom of table teams have it hard

PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2006
Italy's Fabio Cannavaro (C) lifts the World Cup Trophy as he celebrates with team mates after the World Cup 2006 final soccer match between Italy and France in Berlin July 9, 2006. FIFA RESTRICTION - NO MOBILE USE REUTERS/Michael Dalder  

WORLD CHAMPS: Italy's Fabio Cannavaro hoists the World Cup trophy as he celebrates with teammates after his country won the World Cup 2006 final against France in Berlin, Germany, in July last year. page 20. sow. 29/20/07.
PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2006 Italy's Fabio Cannavaro (C) lifts the World Cup Trophy as he celebrates with team mates after the World Cup 2006 final soccer match between Italy and France in Berlin July 9, 2006. FIFA RESTRICTION - NO MOBILE USE REUTERS/Michael Dalder WORLD CHAMPS: Italy's Fabio Cannavaro hoists the World Cup trophy as he celebrates with teammates after his country won the World Cup 2006 final against France in Berlin, Germany, in July last year. page 20. sow. 29/20/07.

PARIS - For Italy, Argentina and Brazil, the world's top three soccer superpowers, read Aruba, Sao Tome e Principe and Montserrat, the game's poorest relations who currently prop up the Fifa rankings.

PARIS - For Italy, Argentina and Brazil, the world's top three soccer superpowers, read Aruba, Sao Tome e Principe and Montserrat, the game's poorest relations who currently prop up the Fifa rankings.

In a sport awash with money, mind-boggling TV contracts and soap-opera lifestyles, the game's rulers in the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba are happy just to make sure their buses run and that lines are painted on their pitches in time for kick-off.

"This is the biggest tournament we have organised," said Aruba football federation president Rufo J Kelly at the island's 5000-capacity Trinidad Stadium which hosted qualifiers for the Beijing Olympics in September.

Aruba lost their three matches to Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua and were flooded with complaints about their organisation.

Jamaica's Reggae Boyz were particularly put out by having to travel in old school buses without windows or a roof and which had been bought from Colombia.

For the teams jointly-ranked at 200 in the world, it's a world away from the experiences of the top three, all World Cup winners boasting an array of household names.

Little Sao Tome, a dot off the west coast of Africa, won't get near the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, having decided to pull out of the preliminary qualification rounds.

It's just as well.

When the islanders tried to qualify for the 2006 tournament in Germany, they were beaten 8-0 by Libya.

American Samoa, who are one of the nine teams ranked at 200, had the honour of playing in the first qualifier for the 2010 World Cup in August, and probably wish they had not as they suffered a 12-1 defeat to Solomon Islands.

That was followed by a 7-0 loss to Western Samoa, a 15-0 hammering by Vanuatu and 4-0 drubbing by Tonga.

But there was still some relief for American Samoa; in the 2002 qualifiers they were humiliated 31-0 by Australia.

"I continue to get e-mails reminding me about that," said coach David Brand, a former Wigan professional player.

"It was a little bit embarrassing, but it's in the past. I wasn't involved then but now we want to go out and improve."

American Samoa's hopes of beating the Solomons were already damaged by their goalkeeper missing his flight in Hawaii, with a 17-year-old schoolboy enlisted instead.

"None of our US-based college players were able to avail themselves for the tournament, which was sad. Other commitments came before playing for their country, which is hard for me to fathom," added Brand.

"We still have to teach our people that football is the number one sport in the world and playing in the World Cup is the highest honour." - Sapa-AFP

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