Ricketts gives CONCACAF high marks for Nations League innovation

...Qualifying draw pits Boyz against El Salvador, Suriname, Cayman, Bonaire

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor

Thursday, March 08, 2018

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MIAMI, USA — Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president Michael Ricketts saluted CONCACAF for its inventiveness with the new confederation-wide Nations League, but he immediately took stock of at least two of Jamaica's opponents in the early rounds.

At yesterday's launch of the groundbreaking tournament and the draw of its qualifying phase in Miami Beach, Jamaica — the top-ranked Caribbean nation — will be at home to the Cayman Islands in the September FIFA window to kick-start their campaign.

The Reggae Boyz will then face Bonaire away in October, then welcome Suriname in November and will close out the qualifying stage against El Salvador in the official March 2019 calendar window.

“Bonaire, I understand, is not a member of FIFA just yet, but certainly we will face challenges from Suriname and El Salvador, but we are hopeful being the highest-ranking Caribbean team and fourth-ranked in CONCACAF,” Ricketts told the Jamaica Observer.

With a friendly game scheduled for Kingston against Antigua and Barbuda on March 25, Ricketts believes the stage is set to start “getting a feel” of regional competition.

“We ought now to be convinced that we must play our Caribbean neighbours to get a feel of what the competition will be, so we could very well be on the right footing when we play Antigua in two weeks,” said the JFF boss, who attended yesterday's colourful draw at Temple House in Miami Beach.

Ricketts, who is just months into the job as JFF president, welcomed the CONCACAF Nations League, a tournament which represents a dramatic revamping of senior men's football in the confederation.

“It's all interesting as we look forward for this kind of competition, which I think augurs well for the future of the sport, so it's an interesting set-up and we look forward to it and just hoping that we will do well,” Ricketts noted.

“I must say I am very supportive of the leadership of CONCACAF as I think they are moving in the right direction,” he added.

JFF general secretary Dalton Wint and director of football Wendell Downswell also attended yesterday's snazzy event.

The qualifying schedule for the Nations League was determined from four draw pots consisting of all CONCACAF member associations, except the six nations that competed in the Hexagonal round of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

Those countries — Mexico, USA, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago — have already been seeded in League A of the three-tier promotion and relegation league, and will forego the qualification stage set to start September.

The qualifying plank will determine which of the three tiers teams will be placed in.

At the launch and draw event attended by member associations' presidents and general secretaries, CONCACAF also launched a new logo capturing the essence of the four driving pillars of the One CONCACAF vision — unity, football, quality and access. Also, the new badge has a clear representation of the grouping's 41 members, and their diversity.

Also a new tagline, “The Love For Our Game”, is a rallying cry for the confederation's new direction as it seeks to grow the game across its spread of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

“We are incredibly excited as this is a big accomplishment for us as a confederation to be able to launch a new competition where all our members get the opportunity to play, and that's the core of our focus and that is on football.

“We also want to ensure the balance of competition and make sure that more of our members have access to that competition and that is essential as we develop the sport across the region,” said CONCACAF general secretary Philippe Moggio.

In developing the league, which will in essence replace friendly matches during the official FIFA window and will serve as the qualifying tournament to the flagship Gold Cup, Moggio said the confederation listened to its membership and weighed all possibilities and eventualities in coming up with a final structure and format.

“We looked at the FIFA cycle and some of the competitions that our members had, like World Cup qualifying, and we found that a lot of them would have just two matches and that would be all they would play and wouldn't have the opportunity to play friendlies, so now we are offering them the opportunity to compete more in an official CONCACAF competition.

“We also looked at what the other confederations have done, so for us it was important to focus on official competition and coming up with a format that allows our members to play more,” Moggio explained.

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