CONCACAF to overhaul 'archaic' World Cup qualifying format
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 the qualifying format 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.
CLIMBING THE RANKINGS
"Caribbean countries have problems climbing the FIFA rankings, just because we are not able to play as many international games as you want to," John Krishnadath, president of the Suriname soccer federation, told the AP earlier this year, while also highlighting the high cost of travelling to matches.
Suriname's World Cup journey ended in June 2015 immediately after entering in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying. The first seven CONCACAF teams were eliminated back in March 2015. It's so long ago that Montagliani is the third president CONCACAF has had during qualifying for the 2018 tournament.
Former CONCACAF head Jeffrey Webb was first arrested as part of the sprawling American investigation into corruption in May 2015 and his temporary replacement, Alfredo Hawit, was indicted seven months later. Montagliani said CONCACAF competitions and the interests of teams were neglected in an era when the leadership was motivated by corruptly extorting money from the confederation and its commercial backers.
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 play-offs 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 play-off against a country from Oceania.