COVID-19 Could Force Changes to CONCACAF’s World Cup Qualifying Format

United States midfielder Christian Pulisic (10) moves the ball past Jamaica defender Michael Hector (3) during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal soccer match Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

OTTAWA, Canada – The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football’s (CONCACAF) ‘Hexagonal’ round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar may have to be scrapped due to the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the sport.

The pandemic has brought major events across the globe to a screeching halt and impacted scheduling of events by sporting organisations, including CONCACAF.

As a result, says president Victor Montagliani, the structure of the region’s qualifying competition will likely have to be adjusted.

“I think on the balance of probabilities in terms of what has happened so far, and what likely will continue to happen, the current World Cup format will have to be changed, which means that ultimately the ‘Hex’ will have to be changed into some other form,” he said in an interview with Canada’s Onesoccer.com website last week.

A six-team round robin format, referred to as the ‘Hexagonal’ or ‘Hex’, is usually used by CONCACAF as its World Cup qualifying tournament. The top three teams qualify directly for the finals, while the fourth-place team enters a playoff to book their ticket.

With football unable to be played as countries across the world remain in various stages of shutdown, Montagliani explained that important international windows for playing qualifying matches ahead of the 2022 World Cup will be lost. The June window has already been postponed and the CONCACAF boss said he was not optimistic the September window would go ahead.

Montagliani was unable to give details about the inevitable reforms to the qualifying structure, although he did say the Hex would be a bigger competition.

“Obviously it will be bigger, but what that number is I don’t know until we have a calendar. Until we know from FIFA how many windows we have it’s going to be very hard for me to say it’s going to be this, that or the other,” the FIFA vice-president said.

“Because even on some of the modelling that my competitions guys are working on in their basements right now, depending on what this calendar looks like, whatever you’ve thought of you might have to redo that.”

Montagliani added, though, that he expected FIFA rankings would be used as a starting point for the new format.

“You’re going to have to use FIFA rankings to start somewhere because that’s the reality of our confederation and in terms of having 35 teams. You’re going to have to do some kind of elimination process and then get into some kind of group stage process,” he said.

The last time an English-speaking Caribbean nation reached the FIFA World Cup was in 2006 when Trinidad and Tobago finished fourth in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal and advanced to the play-off against Bahrain, the fifth-place team in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifying tournament.

The Soca Warriors earned a place in the World Cup after defeating Bahrain 2-1 on aggregate in that AFC-CONCACAF playoff, but they did not make it to the knockout stage.

CMC

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