Two posts in one day, both with similar themes regarding rivalries, divisions, and blatant cash grabs. Upon request of certain longtime readers, we begin with the proposed realignment of CONCACAF World Cup qualification. Read about it here. Basically, CONCACAF wants to abandon the hexagonal, in which the top six teams from the semifinal rounds play home-and-away to determine the top spots for the World Cup. Instead they propose to go to two rounds of group stages culminating in two four-team groups for the final round. The winner of each group qualifies automatically and the two second-place teams playing off for the third automatic qualifying spot.
The reason we don’t like this is simple: The U.S. and Mexico are virtually guaranteed to be the top two seeds, which means they will be in separate groups. Which means we can no longer look forward to playing El Tri home-and-away during qualification. No more trips to the Azteca; no more showdown in Columbus. It’s a major bummer because this has become a true rivalry and the U.S.-Mexico qualifiers provide the kind of intensity and emotion you can only find at the World Cup.
CONCACAF wants to do this because the federation includes a lot of small nations who want to play more meaningful games (and make more money). If say, Tortuga or Belize draws the U.S. or Mexico in the first round, the TV residuals alone will fund their soccer prograsm for years. There’s also the argument that more qualifies gives these smaller countries the chance to improve their teams. Bottom line: more matches = more money.
FIFA would still have to accept this change next spring, so it’s not yet set in stone. But when it comes to CONCACAF, what Jack Warner wants, Jack Warner gets, and with the U.S. lobbying hard to bring the World Cup to our shores in 2022, no one wants to raise a stink and risk offending Warner.
The other thing we don’t like about this scenario is the danger factor. Four team groups are less forgiving of a bad start or a couple of key injuries. You lose two in a row in that final round and it’s serious butt-clinch time. And the U.S. wouldn’t relish the possibility of seeing that playoff game for the third and final spot either. Still as has often been said, if you can’t finish near the top of CONCACAF, you have no business in the World Cup anyway…
But the possible loss of those rivalry games against Mexico are truly a shame.