New World Cup qualifying format gives hope to smaller nations — Concacaf boss

New World Cup qualifying format gives hope to smaller nations — Concacaf boss

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

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To say it required the figurative break-back effort to come up with “a workable” competition calendar for Concacaf in the face of COVID-19-related disruptions may be putting it mildly.

With the global football calendar vents thrown into a tailspin, Confederation boss Victor Montagliani says it was a matter of urgency for his team to chisel qualifying formats and schedules for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the Concacaf Gold Cup and Nations League.

Following a virtual meeting of association presidents on Monday, Concacaf announced its new direction to the collective relief of members who were in limbo as far as developing and executing technical and fiscal plans with schedules in shambles and uncertainty high as the novel coronavirus pandemic flattened global sport.

“It was important for us to come up with a [World Cup qualifying] format now. I think we needed to put down a format knowing that the original one was compromised to start with… certainly we needed to give some clarity to our membership from a budgetary, emotional and technical standpoint,” said president Montagliani.

He told the Jamaica Observer that the new path forward “was well received by everybody”.

“The format takes into account economical realities that we are going to face moving forward and this benefits those countries that may not have the fiscal means to go 14 or 15 games like the old one [format] did,” he noted.

Crafting the schedules for its major competitions, Montagliani said the approach was multi-dimensional and took into consideration key components.

“On top of that we have other competitions like our Nations League final four and the Nations League itself, and also the Gold Cup qualifying, which will be centralised at the Gold Cup next year…these are factors we took into consideration and looked at holistically from a calendar standpoint, and we thought this format ticked all the boxes where it gave direct access to all our members to the final round,” he noted.

The new format of the Concacaf Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers will comprise three rounds and will provide all participating members with the chance to compete for the Confederation's three-and-a-half World Cup spots.

The first round (30 teams) will be played between teams ranked 6-35 based on the Fifa rankings as of July 16, 2020.

The 30 men's national teams will be drawn into six groups of five in a seeded draw. The six highest ranked teams — El Salvador, Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago — will be pre-seeded into groups A to F, respectively.

Each team will play every other team in their group once, playing a total of four matches — two home and two away. These games will be played in the Fifa match windows of October 2020 and November 2020.

At the end of the first round, the six group winners will progress to the second phase.

The second round (six teams) will be played between the group winners from the first round, with the match-ups pre-determined as follows: Group A winner vs Group F winner, Group B winner vs Group E winner, and Group C winner vs Group D winner.

The teams will play home and away in a direct elimination format in the Fifa match window of March 2021. The three winners will progress to the final round.

The three winners from the second round join the Concacaf nations ranked one to five based on the Fifa rankings. Those countries are Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras.

The final round will begin in the double Fifa match window in June 2021 and continue in the windows of September, October, November 2021 and January and March 2022.

The eight teams will play each other home and away, with each team playing 14 matches.

At the end of the final round, the top three teams will qualify directly to Qatar 2022, with the fourth-placed team to engage in an intercontinental play-off, scheduled for June 2022.

“We kept the integrity of the five countries who already are across the line in keeping with their Fifa rankings, and obviously Jamaica being one of the five. I think it is a format that everybody understands and one that will give everybody a real opportunity and now we can move forward,” said Montagliani.

The Canadian businessman says he was inspired by the upbeat reaction to the new format, which is believed to give all of Concacaf's 35 Fifa members a chance at Qatar 2022.

“The initial feedback has been very positive and other Caribbean nations are looking at it in different ways; some are looking at it as their chance of being among the final three, others are seeing it that there are a number of guaranteed World Cup qualifying games to look forward and where they can can get their young teams some more development opportunities.

“Others their goals maybe to get promoted in the next Nations League and try to qualify for a Gold Cup, so this all goes to part of their programmes,” Montagliani stated.

“There are some really good countries that have a chance here as they have shown through their performances the past couple of years in the Nations League or at the Gold Cup. And the same in Central America as there are countries that fancy themselves,” he added.

The Gold Cup 2021, which will now kick off on July 10 and end on August 1, has an intriguing twist.

With 12 teams already qualified of 16 to the expanded tournament, there will be a preliminary tournament of 12 other nations just ahead of the kick-off to the group stage to decide the other four competitors.

“It [Gold Cup qualifying format] was well received and the members are excited that they will get to play at Gold Cup venues and that will be a great experience for the players, coaches and the fans.

“The cost to bring 12 teams into the preliminary round will be borne by Concacaf and that is the sacrifice that we will make, and we have advised the members of that, but we also think it is more of an investment than a cost.

“Yes, we will have more teams at the Gold Cup, these games will be telecast, so for us, it's an investment, not only in the Gold Cup itself, but an investment in those members. Not that we are going to, but if we were to keep this system, these are countries that say 'I may qualify for the preliminary round of the Gold Cup, and even if I play one game, that's great news in my country for fans, commercial partners and governments',” noted Montagliani.

The 12 participating teams in the preliminary round are The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Nations already qualified for the Gold Cup are Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Canada, Grenada, El Salvador, Curacao, Martinique, Suriname, and Panama.


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