The hope is that the yet-to-be-revealed Concacaf Zone qualifying format for the Qatar 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup will be a more equitable and open one, which gives all 35 participants a chance at qualifying.
Former national footballers Clayton Morris and Angus Eve, both agree that the plan to scrap the current controversial qualifying system for Qatar benefits Caribbean teams. Former Trinidad and Tobago technical director Anton Corneal felt it was quite too early to comment meaningfully, but acknowledged that the originally planned qualifying system “was difficult for Caribbean teams”.
Canadian Victor Montagliani, president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) last week announced a likely change to the controversial qualifying system as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which could result in most of this year’s football being lost.
Montagliani anticipated that in its current format, there will not be sufficient time to run World Cup qualifying, which is due to begin in September.
The controversial system will see fourth-ranked Jamaica as the only Caribbean team eligible for the “Hex”, from which the six highest-ranked Concacaf teams are seeded and will battle for three automatic World Cup qualifying spots.
Twenty-five other Caribbean teams – including T&T and Haiti – will play a back-door 29-team competition along with Canada, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala, after which the winners will meet the fourth-place Hex finishers for a spot into an inter-continental World Cup qualifier.
“I thought the initial qualifying system was unfair in the sense of equality for all,” said Eve.
Eve made reference to small European countries like Malta, the Faroe Islands and Azerbaijan – the latter beaten twice by T&T in international friendly matches.
“You look at Azerbaijan and all these other countries all over the world who have never qualified for any major tournament, but the fair opportunity for them to play has never been taken away from them,” stated the T&T national boys Under-17 coach.
“I think that was not in our favour,” former national futsal coach Morris added. “I think we were at a disadvantage.”
With Concacaf Nations Cup and Gold Cup qualifying matches already postponed, Montagliani anticipated having to reformat the World Cup qualifying process.
“The current World Cup format will have to be changed,” he said. ‘Ultimately the ‘Hex’ would have to be changed into some other form. Obviously it would be bigger. ‘What the number is, obviously I don’t know until FIFA tells us how many days the calendar is.”
While not yet knowing what the new qualifying format will be, both Eve and Morris hoped the new plan, when unveiled, would give all Concacaf teams a fair opportunity at qualifying for the World Cup.
“It gives us a chance to be in the next World Cup,” stated former T&T captain Morris, “It still will not be easy, but it was impossible to make the Hex under the system they had.” Eve added:“I hope good sense prevails. We (should) have a qualifying round from the Caribbean. We then go onto a second stage and then the next. With the limited amount of windows, I think that will be fair for everybody.”
In his statements last week, Montagliani also stressed that there had been agreement on the current Hex format.
“Everybody confirmed. This was not done in my office with my general secretary,” Montagliani said. “It was done with a series of meetings with the 41 member nations over three years. Everybody was at the table, including Canada.
“It wasn’t made based on helping out anybody and besides the decision was made two-and-a-half years before,’ the Concacaf president added.
However, Eve had a different take on the Hex decision. “I think a certain team did not like how Trinidad knocked them out of the World Cup (2017 World Cup qualifying) and I think that was done because of that,” he declared. He felt conditions were put in place for teams like the USA not to face the difficult conditions presented in places like the Caribbean.
“In my opinion, the process of qualifying is for teams to go into places which are undesirable or to go to difficult places where they don’t like to go, and battle to come out with a result.”