CONCACAF Nations League a big deal, say 'small' members

Deputy Sport Editor

Saturday, March 10, 2018

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MIAMI, USA — Caribbean bosses from the smaller territories were in football nirvana as the overarching body CONCACAF announced landmark changes to its competition and qualifying structure with a new tournament here on Wednesday.

At a dazzling launch event at The Temple House in Miami Beach, the governing body for football in North and Central America and the Caribbean, in an overpowering air of pomp and pageantry, unveiled the confederation-wide CONCACAF Nations League.

In the hour-and-half-long red carpet event, details of structure and format, in addition to a draw to determine matchups in the qualifying phase set to kick off in September, were presented to stakeholders and guests with the frills of Hollywood awards show production.

Theatrics aside, the full schedule of the first stage of the game-changing tournament was determined and will be played in the FIFA calendar windows of September, October, November of 2018 and that of March 2019.

President of the Grenada Football Association Cheney Joseph said while his country stands to benefit from the new tournament, he was concerned that the proverbial dice did not necessarily roll in his favour.

“I wished we were considered higher up in the ranking as I don't think it was the best draw one could have wanted… as you know we are a passionate people in Grenada and would probably would have preferred to have Curacao at home than French St Martin, but we cannot take them for granted because they have access to players in Europe.

“We are away to Curacao, then we go home for Cuba, then home to French St Martin and then away to Puerto Rico, and it's not easy in my opinion.

“That said, I think we have the quality to gain maximum points in all of those games, but what it says is that we have our work cut out for us so all we have to do now is start preparing,” he said.

Joseph thinks CONCACAF is on the ball with the new competition, which is viewed for its development and competition value, especially for the smaller territories of the 31-member Caribbean.

“I must congratulate CONCACAF in what I think was a remarkable launch and I must also credit it them for the new logo… I think for small islands this is a big opportunity because now the young players can dream of playing against somebody, so it's all good,” Joseph noted.

Meanwhile, another considered minnow of CONCACAF football Puerto Rico welcomed the new developments as the confederation rebrands and repositions itself to meet the challenges of the changing face of global football.

“We are very satisfied with the draw and we are happy that CONCACAF has come up with the Nations League, which will give us in the Caribbean the opportunity to have more games in the four cycles (FIFA calendar window), and this is going to be very good for the development of football in our region,” said Puerto Rico Football Federation president Eric Labrador.

Puerto Rico will face St Kitts and Nevis, Martinique, Belize and Grenada in the qualifying stage.

St Kitts and Nevis Football Association boss Anthony Johnson shares the view that the returns to smaller members, like that of his country, will see a new dawning in respect of their development potential.

“It is extremely important, as the complaint for a long time is that we (smaller Caribbean territories) have not been playing enough. So it is an excellent idea to utilise the FIFA dates to play among the CONCACAF countries and that is one way we will see increased development and exposure,” he expressed.

Johnson was happy with the hand the draw dealt his association.

“We are very satisfied as we have both Puerto Rico and Canada at home in St Kitts and then we travel to Suriname and French St Martin, so it was a competitive draw and we expect to be fully prepared for the tournament and we expect good results,” he said.

The Kittian noted that already excitement is building in his country at the prospect of hosting high-quality competitive matches on a more consistent basis, a rarity in the past.

“I know that the public is excited and they will become more aware about the details in the coming days, and I think the excitement will increase given particularly the countries we will be playing against on home soil.

“I expect the public to come and support us… we have already confirmed a game against the Dominican Republic on the 25th of March and we are in discussion with a number of other countries, and we expect an announcement very shortly on a game on home soil in April — and we hope that will be against one of the top countries in the region,” Johnson ended.

Meanwhile, CONCACAF's Director of development Jason Roberts was beside himself with excitement as the former Grenadian international wrapped his head around the possibilities for the Caribbean region in particular.

“I am hugely excited about this Nations League as this is a platform which allows us to have more games and more elite competition.

“I think if you look at the traditional cycle, how many games were played by teams like Grenada and Jamaica, I think it is important to increase that number and I think that is what we have here with this particular platform. And from a development standpoint, I think we will see more (positive) outcomes as a result of this new league,” said the former English Premier League campaigner, who capped a rich career of 154 goals in 501 appearances.

The CONCACAF Nations League, which will be a direct qualifier for the marquee Gold Cup, will be a three-tier promotion and demotion competition to be contested by all 41 member associations.

The qualifying phase will determine which of the three leagues — A, B and C — will fall. The six nations — Mexico, USA, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago — who contested the Hexagonal round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers have received byes to League A and await other qualifiers to complete its make-up.

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