Editorial (July 11, 2019) – Yesterday the CONCACAF 2022 WCQ system was announced, as CONCACAF continued its assault on fair sporting practices, and announced their new system for World Cup Qualification that will be implemented for the 2022 World Cup Cycle. It’s a complete joke, to say the least.
The New CONCACAF 2022 WCQ System is a Joke
The new system announced by CONCACAF yesterday has done what CONCACAF continues to always do: benefit their more successful, and more profitable nations. In case you are unaware of the new format that the Federation announced yesterday here is the run-down:
- The 6 Highest Ranked CONCACAF Members according to the FIFA rankings that will come out after the June of 2020 FIFA window, will automatically be thrown into the Hexagonal tournament. The top three will automatically qualify for the 2022 world cup, while the fourth-placed team in the Hex will face off against the winner of the next part of the Qualification cycle.
- The remaining 29 CONCACAF Members ranked 7-35 (in CONCACAF) according to those June 2020 FIFA rankings will be thrown into a group play, round-robin format, 8 groups (five of four nations, and three of three nations). The first-place team in each group will then advance to a knockout stage of home and away series (Quarters, Semis, and the Finals).
- The winner of that (1/29) will then face-off against the fourth-placed team from the Hexagonal round.
- The Winner of that Home-Home series will get CONCACAF’s “half” spot in the World Cup, meaning they would be entered into the “Continental Playoffs” for the remaining two World Cup Bids.
Why it’s Potentially Good
Ok, so there are some benefits to this system if you are Mexico and the USA. You’re almost guaranteed, as long as you keep within that top six, to only have to go through the hexagonal round of qualifying, making it significantly easier to qualify for the World Cup instead of going through the War of Attrition that was the previous World Cup Qualifying process. It also makes sure CONCACAF isn’t sending two members to the World Cup who are going to get embarrassingly bounced out of the Group Stage, and what could’ve been a third if Honduras had beaten Australia in their continental playoff. As an American, I can say this system benefits the USMNT greatly. Fine. However they still have to go through the Hex, so there’s still as much chance of them not qualifying as there was in 2018.
Why it’s Terrible
This basically screams, “SUCKS TO BE YOU IF YOU’RE NOT USA, MEXICO, AND COSTA RICA.” If it was the current FIFA rankings that decided the Hexagonal round, it would include:
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
That’s it. No Canada, no Panama, no Haiti, no Curacao, no Trinidad and Tobago. Nada. Of the final 8 for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, half of them wouldn’t even have a shot at a full World Cup Spot. That’s insane.
What this does, is it allows the most financially prosperous, and most exposed nations to have a greater advantage it making the World Cup.
Roughly 83% of CONCACAF has a shot at one half of a World Cup place, while the top 17% will have a 50/50 shot at making the World Cup. This is all opposed to the previous system which when all teams were entered into the group stage, you had 12 teams that all had a fair shot at getting a World Cup bid.
The old system still had its flaws
Granted, the old system still was weird. You had almost all of the remote and Carribean nations that had to fight through each other just to get to the group stage, and who was entered into whatever round of qualification was still based on FIFA rankings. Not one team from the first round of the qualification round was able to get to the fourth round. And the two teams with a bye to the third round were thrown into the same group in the fourth round, almost guaranteeing the elimination of one of them.
The old CONCACAF system was a war of attrition for the smaller nations. The frustrating part is that regions like Europe can pretty comprehensively give every nation a fair shot with one giant grouping system. Granted, they get 13 places in the World Cup so it’s much easier to give all of their member nations a fair shot. They were able to split up into 9 groups. You can’t split 35 CONCACAF Nations into 3 groups. And if CONCACAF doesn’t have more than three bids, you can’t quite split it up into more than three groups either.
A Suggestion for CONCACAF
Here is one way I think CONCACAF could format it and be fair to a much larger portion of countries in the Federation:
- The Top 9 in CONCACAF according to FIFA rankings (It’s about as good as it will get) all automatically advance to the final round of qualifying, with the top three ranked getting the top three seeds for groups A, B, and C. The remaining six will be distributed and seeded according to FIFA rankings into their respective groups (1,6,9 in group A; 2,5,8 in group B; and 3,4,7 in group C)
- The remaining 24 teams are thrown into a knockout style tournament and re-seeded every round based on FIFA rankings. After two knockout rounds, you end up with six remaining teams.
- Those six remaining teams will be drawn into the three world cup qualifying groups.
- Group A, B, and C will each have a total of five nations, giving 15 CONCACAF nations an even shot at a whole world cup bid. Those games would be played over 4 FIFA windows (8 total games per group) with the first-place finisher in each group getting an automatic World Cup Bid.
- The four best-performing nations (on points) that didn’t get the top spot in their group will be thrown into a two-legged playoff series, requiring only two FIFA windows. The winner of that knockout series gets CONCACAF’s half-bid and enters into the “intercontinental playoff”
So what would that currently look like to start off?
- Group A: Mexico, El Salvador, Curaçao, Playoff winners rank 3 and 6
- Group B: USA, Honduras, Canada, Playoff winners ranked 2 and 5
- Group C: Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, Playoff winners ranked 1 and 4
If you were just to take the top 15 teams in CONCACAF right now and say those are the five groups, you’d include all of the above 9 teams, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Antigua and Barbuda, Nicaragua, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Guatemala. And who knows from the remaining 20 nations if any of them would be able to upset those six. But it makes it interesting and gives most of CONCACAF a fair chance.
In terms of how many FIFA dates it would take up, it’s only one FIFA date more. To have all of CONCACAF’s bids set, it would take only eight FIFA dates. The format announced for 2022 only uses seven. Both of these are still down from the 11 the old format used.
Ultimately, CONCACAF is on “Team Chaos”
The terms “Team Chaos” and “CONCACAF’ing” were born out of the madness that has ensued with the way matches, tournaments, and anything in general in terms of CONCACAF. This qualifying system as much as it benefits the “haves” over the “have nots,” is par for the course for CONCACAF. It’s a disgrace to the rest of the federation in terms of a fair shot at the ultimate ticket, a place in the World Cup. Thankfully, it’s very likely FIFA’s World Cup format expands to 48 after the 2022 World Cup, just in time for three CONCACAF Nations to host it. 2026 will be the chance for CONCACAF to send a bunch of members, and that’s fine. But to say, “hey you’ll get a more even shot in 5 years” is ridiculous. Instead of halving the number of teams who get a fair shot at a full world cup spot, they should’ve increased it.
CONCACAF President, Victor Montagliani, said this in their press-release:
“This new FIFA World Cup qualifying format, based on the FIFA rankings, makes every competitive match count. Alongside the Concacaf Nations League, and our expanded Gold Cup, it will raise standards of play to unprecedented levels and develop the sport across the region. Making the leading Concacaf nations stronger on the global stage, while giving our emerging footballing nations the chance to pursue their dreams of playing at a World Cup.”
The most frustrating part about this is the new format does nothing this statement says it will do. But that’s CONCACAF for you. It’ll just go on and most of American’s, Mexican’s, and the Costa Rican’s won’t complain because it benefits them significantly. I guess it’s on the rest of CONCACAF to step up and show they deserve a fair shot at a World Cup spot than their federation will give them.