(WFI) The president of CONCACAF wants to give the many minnows in his confederation a better chance at playing meaningful World Cup qualifying matches.
Victor Montagliani says change is needed, citing the fact that only six of the 35 FIFA-affiliated countries in the North and Central America and the Caribbean region are still in contention to make Russia 2018 despite it being almost two years before the tournament.
To take it one step further, only 12 of the 35 had remained in the hunt by September 2015, almost three years before the next World Cup.
Montagliani, a Canadian elected as CONCACAF president in May, told the Associated Press he has ordered a review of the World Cup qualifying process.
The current format has been in place since qualifying began for the 1998 World Cup in France. Three rounds of two-legged home-and-away matchups among the smaller CONCACAF members thins the field to six teams, which are joined in the fourth round by the top six seeded teams, including regional heavyweights like the United States and Mexico, in a 12-team format featuring three groups of four.
The top two teams from each of those groups move onto the final round, also called the “hexagonal”. The six teams play one another home and away over the course of a year. The top three finishers qualify automatically for Russia while the fourth-place team faces a two-legged intercontinental playoff against the fifth-place team from the final round of Asian qualifying.
The final six teams this time are the USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. Panama is the only country in this group that has never made a World Cup.
The idea of playing even more qualifying games against lower-ranked countries would seemingly be the last thing that United States coach Juergen Klinsmann would want.
Klinsmann, speaking to reporters ahead of the USA’s friendly on Tuesday with New Zealand, says the biggest problem for CONCACAF is a lack of competitive matches against higher-quality opponents outside the federation.
Klinsmann has long professed that for the USA to become better, they must play the best more often. He wants to see a Copa America tournament that regularly combines the best of CONCACAF with the South American countries.
The USA made the semifinals of the special Copa America Centenario this past summer. The 16-team tournament featured the 10 CONMEBOL countries and six from CONCACAF.
Normally the Copa America is limited to 12 teams, with two non-CONMEBOL countries invited to take part. The next edition is scheduled for Brazil in 2019.
By INSIDER Gerard Farek
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