CONCACAF to overhaul ‘archaic’ World Cup qualifying format

October 09, 2016
Victor Montagliani


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.

“Something needs to change because you can’t have 85 percent of your members who are on the outside looking in two years before the World Cup,” Montagliani told The Associated Press. “It doesn’t make sense.”

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.

“It’s great for those six teams over the next year and a bit but how about the other ones?” Montagliani said. “It’s hard.”

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

“We seriously need to look at our World Cup qualifying system that is a bit archaic. We need to be a bit more all-encompassing. We’re looking at how we balance competitions with our commercial (priorities) without putting too much stress on already too busy calendars as well,” said Montagliani who 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 two-year 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.

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