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Report: CONCACAF to review World Cup qualifying format


CONCACAF could be implementing significant changes to its World Cup qualifying format.

President Victor Montagliani has begun a review of CONCACAF’s qualifying system, according to the Associated Press, which he says needs to be reformatted.

“Something needs to change because you can’t have 85 percent of your members who are on the outside looking in two years before the World Cup,” said Montagliani. “It doesn’t make sense.”

CONCACAF has utilized its current format since the 1998 World Cup cycle, with the process concluding with six teams playing in the Hexagonal round to determine who will qualify from the region.

The U.S. Men’s National Team, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago are the six nations left and will begin the final round of qualifying in November.

“It’s great for those six teams over the next year and a bit but how about the other ones?” Montagliani asked. “It’s hard.”

“Can you imagine you are a country trying to find a sponsor and they say, ‘I’m all for it, when’s your next big game?’ And it’s three years from now?”

Montagliani suggested emulating UEFA’s or CONMEBOL’s qualifying formats, or even a hybrid of both systems. Europe splits its countries into nine different groups and play their qualifiers over the course of 13 months. South America uses a league-style process with all 10 nations facing each other twice.

What are your thoughts on these potential changes to CONCACAF qualifying? What system would you like to see?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. The Caribbean members of CONCACAF should belong to a separate confederation, sort of an Atlantic version of Oceania. The winner could be involved in a playoff. The allocation for the remaining members of CONCACAF would drop from 3.5 to 3.

    • This x1000. I’ve been thinking about this and how we could find a way to drop the Caribbean members for several years. I think they should form an Atlantic Oceania or something like that. The winner of Atlantic Oceania would face off against Pacific Oceania for a spot in the expanding WC finals field of 40 teams.

      Teams like Jamaica and T&T could be given a choice to remain with North America or be including in the new Atlantic Oceania. Pros and cons for each really. They would be big fish in a small pond if they join Atlantic Oceania and would certainly face off against each other for the chance to face off against New Zealand for a birth in the finals. TV Rights would be far more lucrative if they stayed with the North and Central American teams though.

      If FIFA does go to 40 teams in the WC finals then there might be just enough of a incentive to Caribbean members to get something done on this.

      This could also pave the way for Conmebol merger at some point. No way Argentina and Brazil are playing the likes of Cuba and St Vincent in actual qualifiers. The only way to challenge UEFA’s power within FIFA and club soccer is a North American/South American merger. We caught a small glimpse of that with the Copa this year. First step is to figure out how to drop the Carribean nations though and all the corruptions and bargaining they throw on the rest of Concacaf.

  2. Concacaf should be spending their time and resources fixing the terrible fields, refereeing, dangerous fan behavior, and match-fixing that make so many of the WCQ an absolute circus and difficult to watch for fans.

  3. The term “minnow” is very relative. One day one of these “minnows” could decide to hire a foreign coach and nationalize a bunch of players and become an overnight contender. Of course that takes money thence the need for more games.
    Sounds familiar?

    • No, actually, but I’d be interested to hear the rest of your thought to evaluate the actual comparison you’re referencing.

      • I would but your response would be long and convoluted saying nothing at the end. I just don’t have time for that.

      • Appears you’re having some hangover since the last time we “debated” anything, although, I use that term graciously as it was simply you questioning a post I made without bringing any counterpoints and me reinforcing my thought process, again, with no response from you.

        On topic, if you weren’t prepared to to provide an answer “I don’t know.” would have sufficed. In fact, I was sincerely curious and not even trying to debate. It’s ok if you didn’t think it through, weren’t prepared to backup or were just trolling (assuming it was the latter).

        However, as evident to The TX 2 Stepper’s post, you basically said nothing as it was some weird ambiguous statement that provided no insight to your reference if there was one. Your statement “Are you agreeing with me or disagreeing?” highlights the complete disarray the original post was in.

    • If you mean the U.S.A., come off of it? If you mean a country like Suriname, which shot itself in the foot with all of the natural born and Dutch born players they have let go, then yes, you are correct.

      Check out the all star squad of players that the Surinamese F.A. let get away because of a STOOOOOOOOOPID dual national rule. They would have easily been the best team in CONCACAF for years.

  4. Not in all in favor of having more matches on injury prone pitches against amateur players such as in matches recently at St Vincent and the friendly in Cuba. If the minnows want in they need to at least water their fields and mow the grass that basic and doesn’t cost millions to do. These minnow nations are very petty and corrupt in most cases (I’m looking at you Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb) letting them run our confederation will only hurt our national team.

    If these corrupt minnow federations try to ruin Concacaf with some ungodly qualify regimen on traveling to mosquito infested zika swamps to play on overgrown cow pastures then I would recommend Mexico, USA, Costa Rica and the rest of the larger footballing nations who care about improving their football and have some respect for the game rather than how much money they can launder out of Concacaf should leave the confederation and take as many WC spots with them.

    We could look like Conmebol if the teams that left would be US, Mex, Canada, Costa Rica, Hondorus, Jamica, Panama, El Salvador, T&T, Guatemala. Leave it at that and do a 10 team round robin like Conmebol. Let the rest of the old concacaf rot they hold us back anyway by playing such a ridiculous form of anti football and deliberately trashing their pitch before games.

      • Not really as stupid as your knee jerk reaction. Corruption is built into all of us. Many resist some don’t. The problem with having 80 votes most of which are represented by a small population that can use the money is that money becomes TOO loud and it then talks.

  5. Lots of good ideas here. Going Euro style with three groups of 6 would be fine. The top 18 teams in CONCACAF would provide strong enough competition. (Believe it or not El Salvador is 19th today). This format would be a lot more pressure than the bloated hex where you can suck (Mexico) and still qualify. Then the 3 second place teams could have their own group to decide the half spot.
    However CONCACAF needs to chip in some money so all 18 of these federations could afford such a competition.

  6. Is there reason to believe the soccer federations of all of these smaller countries have the financial ability to pay/finance their players/staffs/grounds crews/etc. should more games become a reality?

    • Did you watch the match against Cuba? Clearly they don’t have the funds to play more matches. And when you consider the number of defections they’d experience they’d quickly run out of players to even field a team.

  7. If I were CONCACAF Pres …

    3rd round of WCQ becomes 4 groups of 6 … 10 games playing a Home/Away format … The top 2 of each group advances to 5th round (Bye for 4th round)

    4th round w/ the remaining 16 teams in 4 groups of 4 … 6 games Home/Away format … The top 2 of each group advances to 5th round

    5th round with 3rd round 8 teams and 4th round 8 teams in 4 groups of 4 … 6 games Home/Away format … The top 2 of each group advances to Final round (ENTER THE OCTAGON)

    Final round of WCQ is an Octagon to be played in the calendar year preceding the FIFA WC. 14 games Home/Away format … The top 4 of this final group are your WC participants

    If there was ever a 5th spot given to CONCACAF you could have a play off between the Bottom 4 teams for the final birth/play-in game.

    • An Octagon would be interesting to see all of these teams matching up:

      Costa Rica

  8. This guy certainly looks like he ate all the rice from the village he came from before joining the festering CONCACAF.

  9. While I don’t have an issue with changing the qualification structure the question has to be asked if the smaller nations FAs can afford the financial obligations associated with increasing the number of matches? Each cycle there are stories about national teams where the players are threatening to strike due to back pay or bonuses due.
    Expanding the duration of the minnows involvement in the qualification process will increase the FAs financial implications. Travel expenses, full time coaches, player salaries, training facilities, etc…. Can the smaller nations afford these types of expenses?

  10. There just isn’t enough depth to do too much. You could make the final round two groups of six with the third place teams squaring off, and then change the first group stage to include five groups of four. That would put the US in a group with Trinidad, Suriname, and Grenada based on this times seedings. You would keep eight more teams in through the first group stage and six more in the final stage. With this format the US’s final round group would have been Mexico, Jamaica, TnT, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

    • That’s actually not a bad thing at all … That would present a higher challenger for each team involved and provide at least two more fixtures that would raise the overall competitiveness of the region. Who would the 6 teams be on the other side?

      Canada, Costa Rica, Haití, Honduras, Panama and (Cuba/Grenada/Puerto Rico/St. Vincent)

      If we could swap Mexico for one of these above, this would be an improvement for competitive interest and regional growth

      • I seeded the groups like an American high school or college tournament would be based on the ratings at the time qualification began, of course soccer feds like their lottery style drawings. If the seedings were done after the first group stage the US would be with Costa Rica. The lotto ball method could give you a slightly easier or harder group of course, but with only 12 teams it wouldn’t be too different if they used the common ranked pot system.

  11. As someone who has been following US Soccer a long. long, time, the current setup was done to insure that the teams who had the biggest populations. the US and Mexico, would always be have a better chance to be in the final round of teams to qualify. Prior to the 90’s and postwar (1950) The US were put in a myriad of qualification scenarios, the worst were the qualifying by region, where MX, US and Can were put into the same 1st round qualifying group.

    CONCACAF has the dubious distinction of being the only Federation whose countries went to war over WC qualifying matches. In 1969 El Salvador and Honduras went to war after the results of the two WC qualifying matches (and a playoff game) that led to extreme fan violence which escalated when El Salvador invaded Honduras. The “Football War” resulted in 3000 DEATHS!!
    El Salvador went to the World Cup that year as Mexico was hosting.

    Somehow the “rebranding” CONCACAF and extending regional WC qualifying to a few more nations seem insignificant in the history of WC qualifying.

  12. The current format does allow the best teams to advance…but for most of the CONCACAF countries that is perhaps not the primary goal.

    If we can determine a better way forward and allow more teams to play in more meaningful games, then one side benefit would be less opportunity for the Blazer/Warner approach to buy Caribbean votes to take hold.

    Would advise that they wait to see if Infantino, etc goes with a 40/48 nation Final and see how that impacts the # of slots we get…

    • Honestly, Rather than more World Cup qualifying… each of these countries should pick up an MLS franchise… 1 per country… then they would get lots of games and their quality would improve over time… and their top players could get some exposure. Obviously they would be terrible MLS teams at first… but they would get lots of games, stars would come down… and it would improve their FAs.

  13. I’m largely of the same mind as Dennis; there’s no scenario that keeps all the minnows playing competitive matches all the way to the end of qualifying. Asia has the same problem as CONCACAF; unlike UEFA where the ratio of small countries to large ones is low, in the AFC and CONCACAF the ratio is very high.

    The best option would be to have a repechage group going on concurrent to the Hex, populated with teams eliminated in the previous rounds.

    Scenario: Assume that CONCACAF retains 3½ spots and still keeps basically the same five round set-up. Let’s increase the effort needed for the ½ spot; instead of sending the fourth place Hex team directly to the interconfederation playoff, match them up with the winner of a second-chance group. The repechage format could take sixteen previously eliminated teams and put them in four four team groups. You need six dates for round-robin. The four group winners play a knockout round of home-and-away which requires four more dates to produce a second-chance winner. Ten total weeks with the second-chance winner being decided at the same time the fourth place Hex team is confirmed. To keep the advantage for the team that made it to the Hex, this playoff is a single game format hosted by the 4th place Hex team.

    • This sounds like a promising idea except that I think your secondary group is too large to work well. If you cut it in half with two groups of four and the two group winners to play for the right to play the Hex 4th place team, I think it works much better.

  14. There are actually 3.5 slots. The last half-slot is a home-and-home playoff played on a rotating basis against CONMEBOL (who invariably takes the spot), Asia, and Oceania (meaning, New Zealand.)

    I agree the current format is actually quite bad for the borderline teams. The true minnows are going to remain minnows no matter how many games they get, but right now you do see programs like Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, and Canada that have some talent but simply can’t enough big games or financial support to really progress and I would argue they have a legit beef on this score. Even Panama looked out of its depth against CONMEBOL teams in the Copa America and I was again forced to wonder: how many big games had Panama really gotten? We’ve seen Jamaica and Panama show real quality, at times, in the Gold Cup, and it just wasn’t there in Copa America this summer.

    Hard to advance if you can’t get the games. There’s a reason Klinsmann was so giddy about getting Copa – and so bereaved to be out of the Olympics – and it’s because Klinsmann knows the key to competing is familiarity and experience at the level you wish to compete at.

    I would hope the solution is reasoned. That may be a bit much to ask, given how bent CONCACAF and FIFA are. This 1-vote, 1-country format makes me grind my teeth, because it does mean some of these truly inconsequential soccer nations are capable of some truly bizarre votes. Like putting a World Cup in Qatar, for instance. And that’s about 80% of CONCACAF.

    • The problem here is that US (and probably MX) fans want their teams to play more games against harder opponents. So any increase in teams in the final qualifying round in CONCACAF will result in better games for those “minnows” and worse games for US, MX, CR.

      My suggestion is to combine CONCACAF and COMNEBOL so you have more quality and more teams and you can do groups to stretch out qualifying and include the lesser teams without sacrificing big games.

      4/5 groups… top 2 make it to world cup… and seeding to prevent a group with, say, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia in the same group. But SA would never go for that because it totally dilutes their qualifying games… again, same problem.

  15. There are 41 countries in CONCACAF, an 80 game round-robin is nonsensical. Two groups would be 40 games. If CONCACAF has 2 1/2 slots, even 3 groups would not work unless there is some kind of playoff among the top teams, same for 4 groups.

    I think the purpose of qualifying is to identify the best teams so I am OK with giving the “minnows” a play in round to get into a final round-robin of 6 to 8 teams. That would keep the “minnows” alive longer, but let’s face it any early play in round would still eliminate countries well over 1 year before the WC finals since half-way through the play-in, many teams would have already been eliminated.

  16. This is interesting, because he brings up good points regarding “big games,” but I don’t really know how it could be implemented.

    If we go Euro style, we’re going to have groups full of teams like Belize, Barbados, and Nicaragua. The only drama will come in the highly unlikely chance that USA is in a group with another power.

    Basically, I have no answers, but I’m tentatively open to change.

    • The US would not be in a group with more than 1 other “power”. Look at UEFA – their groups are usually 1 traditional power, 1 possible challenger, 2 average teams and 1 or 2 terrible teams. The traditional powers are seeded and almost always make it through. No one should say that UEFA qualifying is that much more difficult for most of their power teams than CONCACAF is for the US and Mexico.

      • you are wrong. Spain just played Italy… (Ned and France), (Serbia, Ireland, Wales), (Poland, Denmark, Romania), (Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey) are all in groups together.

      • I don’t think that I am. You have a traditional power, and 1 challenger. In the examples you cited, the challenger is 1 other power. So at best, you have groups with two traditional powers, making 1 home and away series important.

        I think my point is proven by today’s line up with games like Portugal v. Faroe Islands, Belgium v. Gilbralter, Andora v. Switzerland, Bosnia v. Cyprus.

        The few games that matter are outweighed by the games that are ridiculous.

      • In the examples Turk cited, Spain and Italy and France and Ned. The chances are slim that these traditional powers don’t finish first and second. The second place team then goes into a seeded home and away playoff to see who advances. The Euro places are just as fixed as those for CONCACAF. in fact, the only Federations who haven’t figured this out are South America and Africa.

      • Turk – other than Group A – with Italy and Spain – and Group G – France and Italy, would you agree that the US would have just as good of a chance of finishing first or second as any of the countries in those groups? I think this US would be group winner in Groups D, E, F and I.

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