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Masterstroke

Edwards hails new Concacaf World Cup qualifying format; says TCI to take full advantage

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Technical director of football in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) Andrew Edwards has given the proverbial thumbs up to Concacaf's new World Cup qualifying format, adding that the aim is to maximise on all opportunities

The Jamaican believes that though many will dare to dream of Qatar 2022, the realistic benefits for tiny members of the confederation, he argues, will be cemented more in raising the profile of these member countries and the vast development rewards that will accrue with the new model.

The new qualifying format has been shifted to give all 35 Fifa members of Concacaf direct access to the path to Qatar.

Thirty countries will battle over two rounds of competition for three outstanding spots in the final round of qualifying action, which will now involve eight teams, and not the the traditional hexagonal.

These eight countries, with five already decided by virtue of their Fifa standings as of July 16, 2020, will scramble for Concacaf's three and half spots to Qatar 2022. Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras have already secured their berths in the octagonal.

The group of 30 play-offs are scheduled to begin in October and November of this year and the octagonal slated for June 2021.

“Under normal circumstances, the smaller nations like the Turks and Caicos Islands would play a home-and-away tie and then would be knocked out of the World Cup qualifiers and that has been the case for the past five or six World Cup qualifying campaigns.

“But this new format essentially allows those nations to now play a minimum of four games — two away and two at home. So obviously by playing more games that will assist or enable the development of players,” Edwards told the Jamaica Observer recently.

The Portland native, a former Jamaica Under-17 men's coach, says while many of the so-called minnows of regional football may not see reaching the World Cup at this stage of their development a realistic goal, there are still development opportunities, which signals hope for the future.

“It may take a long time, or perhaps never, for these teams to compete for places in the World Cup. However, with regular international competitions against the best nations in Concacaf over time these countries could spring the odd surprise and you never know one or two of them may end up in the octagonal if this format is maintained over time,” he reasoned.

Edwards — who works with compatriots Omar Edwards, Shavar Thomas and Aaron Lawrence in the TCI — admitted he was not a big fan of the previous World Cup qualifying format, which was compromised as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would have been disappointed with the initial format, because that set-up would have meant that 29 teams were playing for half of a spot to the World Cup, which I thought would have been extremely unfortunate.

“But this new format is much more equitable, and I am pleased that the competitions people at Concacaf would have found this solution, and hope they will keep this format for the foreseeable future, although I expect it will change now that 48 teams are set for the 2026 World Cup, which means there should be more places allocated to Concacaf, which will require a new format all over again,” he noted.

Edwards, who is a respected coach at school level in his native Jamaica, applauded Concacaf's competitions team for coming up with the new format in a tight window.

“The fact that we have three and half spots and that we have a spread of 35 eligible countries in Concacaf, I supposed it presented its own challenges in how they could logically distribute the spaces in an equitable manner within the time window that we had.

“I have to applaud the Concacaf competitions people because it must have taken a lot of effort to come up with this kind of solution, and a solution that I particularly think is a good one, and I am sure that all the countries are looking forward to it with some level of excitement,” Edwards said.

He argues further that the crafting and final road map to Qatar 2022 were clear manifestations of the philosophy of the One Concacaf vision championed from day one by President Victor Montagliani.

“It's all part of the One Concacaf mission to embrace the lower nations and bring them up so the bigger nations can move even further forward.

“One of the missions of the One Concacaf vision that President Montagliani has been espousing since taking office is the increase in the number of international games the nations within Concacaf play, and this new [World Cup qualifying] format is actually another opportunity for Caribbean countries,” Edwards stated.

In the case of the TCI, the Jamaican tactician says the country has set goals in keeping with its realities as it endeavours to grow football in the British territory.

Like most, if not all, countries in the confederation similarly challenged, the TCI hopes to use the World Cup qualifying campaign as a springboard of greater things to come.

“The Turks and Caicos Islands do not have a strong record in World Cup qualifying, so therefore, the short-term goal would be to get at least one positive result from the four games…we don't want to get too excited, but whoever we draw we do intent to get at least one positive result.

“In the medium term, it's a good opportunity to expose some youngsters, who would form the foundation of a team for the next World Cup cycle, or even the one after that, so we are looking at 2026 and 2030 World Cup campaigns. If we can keep these youngsters together and groom them properly and provide the right exposure, then we should have loftier goals for 2026 and 2030,” Edwards shared

The long-term vision for football in the TCI, he says, will take shape with deeper intervention to address critical and fundamental issues that have stymied the progress of the game.

Those actions to address wider issues affecting football growth and expansion in the country have kicked off, he said.

“In terms of the long-term picture, we are involved in the Fifa Global EcoSystem Survey and that is revealing to us a lot of areas of weakness that we have to fix regardless of our small size. The good thing about it is that we are getting the expert help from Fifa and that will enable us in our own environmental structures and restrictions, be able to design programmes that are more suitable to our own overall development.

“Once that is set in place, we will be able to matriculate better players, better teams, and consequently, to be more competitive, at least in our own region, and to create a pathway for the players so they can make a living from the game,” Edwards explained.