CONCACAF to over­haul ‘ar­chaic’ World Cup qual­i­fy­ing for­mat

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

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 qual­i­fy­ing 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.

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.

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

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 soc­cer 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.

“Can you imag­ine you are a coun­try try­ing to find a spon­sor and they say, ‘I’m all for it, when’s your next big game?’ And it’s three years from now,” Mon­tagliani said dur­ing an in­ter­view in Lon­don.

But Mon­tagliani is cer­tain qual­i­fy­ing must change, al­though there could be a pro­lif­er­a­tion of games that draw smaller crowds and lit­tle broad­cast rev­enue.

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 play­offs for the re­main­ing four UEFA spots in Rus­sia.

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

Each re­gion will gain more au­to­matic World Cup places if FIFA Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino achieves his mission to ex­pand the fi­nals from 32 to 48 teams by 2026 when CONCACAF is in a strong po­si­tion to bring the tour­na­ment to North Amer­ica.

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