CONCACAF to over­haul ‘ar­chaic’ World Cup qual­i­fy­ing for­mat

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

LON­DON (AP): WORLD CUP qual­i­fy­ing in North Amer­ica is set to be over­hauled to avoid shut­ting out the ma­jor­ity of coun­tries in the CONCACAF re­gion so early.

CONCACAF Pres­i­dent Vic­tor Mon­tagliani has in­sti­gated a re­view of an “ar­chaic” for­mat that leaves only six out of the re­gion’s 35 teams still in with a shot at qual­i­fy­ing for Rus­sia in 2018.

Along­side a po­ten­tial new name to re­place the cor­rup­tion-tainted CONCACAF brand, re­vamp­ing the qual­i­fy­ing for­mat to be more in­clu­sive has emerged as a key ob­jec­tive for Mon­tagliani after five months in charge of the con­fed­er­a­tion cov­er­ing North and Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean.

“Some­thing needs to change be­cause you can’t have 85 per­cent of your mem­bers who are on the out­side look­ing in two years be­fore the World Cup,” Mon­tagliani told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Since qual­i­fy­ing for the 1998 World Cup, CONCACAF has used a sys­tem where teams play home and away in early rounds. Once 12 na­tions are re­main­ing, there are three groups of four, which pro­duces six teams for a fi­nal round.

The United States, Costa Rica, Hon­duras, Mex­ico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago are the last teams stand­ing, chas­ing three of CONCACAF’s au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion places. Start­ing next month, they play each other twice in a league.

“It’s great for those six teams over the next year and a bit, but how about the other ones?” Mon­tagliani said. “It’s hard.”

Hard for play­ers to raise their stan­dard and hard for teams to gen­er­ate rev­enue to fund soccer de­vel­op­ment.

CLIMB­ING THE RANK­INGS

“Caribbean coun­tries have prob­lems climb­ing the FIFA rank­ings, just be­cause we are not able to play as many in­ter­na­tional games as you want to,” John Kr­ish­na­dath, pres­i­dent of the Suri­name soccer fed­er­a­tion, told the AP ear­lier this year, while also high­light­ing the high cost of trav­el­ling to matches.

Suri­name’s World Cup jour­ney ended in June 2015 im­me­di­ately after en­ter­ing in the sec­ond round of CONCACAF qual­i­fy­ing. The first seven CONCACAF teams were elim­i­nated back in March 2015. It’s so long ago that Mon­tagliani is the third pres­i­dent CONCACAF has had dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for the 2018 tour­na­ment.

For­mer CONCACAF head Jef­frey Webb was first ar­rested as part of the sprawl­ing Amer­i­can in­ves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion in May 2015 and his tem­po­rary re­place­ment, Al­fredo Hawit, was in­dicted seven months later. Mon­tagliani said CONCACAF com­pe­ti­tions and the in­ter­ests of teams were ne­glected in an era when the lead­er­ship was mo­ti­vated by cor­ruptly ex­tort­ing money from the con­fed­er­a­tion and its com­mer­cial back­ers.

Dis­cussing a new con­fig­u­ra­tion, Mon­tagliani said: “Maybe it’s like the Euro­peans or maybe it’s like the South Amer­i­cans with a league – or it’s a hy­brid of the two.”

In Europe, coun­tries are split into nine groups, bal­anced ac­cord­ing to their rank­ings, and play games from Septem­ber 2016 to Oc­to­ber 2017. The group win­ners qual­ify au­to­mat­i­cally and the eight best run­ners-up will con­test play-offs for the re­main­ing four UEFA spots in Rus­sia.

In South Amer­ica, the 10 CONMEBOL mem­bers are in a two-year league that started in Oc­to­ber 2015. The top four have guar­an­teed World Cup places and the fifth­place team has to go through a play-off against a coun­try from Ocea­nia.

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