Editorial: CONCACAF Does Not Need An Extra World Cup Spot


While many negative things can be and have been said about FIFA President Sepp Blatter, let’s at least give him credit for this: he certainly knows how to please a crowd. Always the politician, Blatter announced at last week’s CONCACAF Congressional meeting “If the World Cup will stay at 32 teams, then CONCACAF should have four teams.”

There are a couple of things that should be taken into consideration before looking at this issue. The first is the circumstances of Blatter’s meeting with CONCACAF. Blatter is currently ‘running’ (let’s use this term loosely) for FIFA President and this had all of the makings of a political campaign speech. Very often in speeches like this politicians make grand statements as a means of cajoling voters on the fence. Blatter may very well be thinking about giving CONCACAF a spot but the use of the word “If” at the beginning of the sentence gives him room to backtrack later.

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Mr. Blatter’s comment may have been made for political purposes the subject is an interesting one. Does CONCACAF need four automatic qualification spots?

Outside of UEFA (Europe) and CONMEBOL (South America) there is perhaps no Confederation that has made greater strides in improving its product more than CONCACAF.In the last World Cup, it was able to secure four bids with Mexico defeating New Zealand and had three of their teams make the knockout round (Costa Rica, Mexico, and USA). Considering that both Mexico and Costa Rica took the Netherlands to the limit while the USA very nearly beat Belgium in the Round of 16.

With the game growing in Canada and the USA and other countries like Honduras, Jamaica, Guatemala, and El Salvador (among many others) making tremendous strides now might be the time  to make the switch from three and a half bids to four.

The big question for FIFA when making a decision like this is: does it benefit the World Cup. Quality of play, economics, and keeping the power conferences happy (i.e. Europe and South America) are all important factors that need to be considered. While it may seem simple enough to just take a bid away from one confederation, give it to CONCACAF, and then put the half-bid up for grabs it is not that simple.

Of the 32 qualification spots for the 2018 World Cup, 4 or 5 will come from Asia (depending upon the final playoff match,) 5 from Africa, 4 or 5 from South America, 13 from Europe, and possibly 1 from OCEANIA. South America is not likely to lose a spot given there are only 10 countries in the Confederation and the level of play from their teams on the international level. Neither is Africa, but only because they have so few spots (5 out of 52 countries).

Blatter might look to punish Asia since his main rival for the FIFA Presidency, Prince Ali-Bin Himam, comes from Jordan. But given the huge economic influence that Asia currently has on international football, that may be a poor decision. Also, given the recent advances that major economic powers China, India, Indonesia, and Philippines have made in soccer this is a region will be looking to expand over the next couple of years.

Oh, and don’t look at tiny OCEANIA. While there was talk that New Zealand might be joining Australia in Asia, that seems to have been scuttled with the Socceroos possibly being kicked out of the AFC. If that were to happen OCEANIA may look for their own automatic spot.

So it comes down to Europe. To say that Blatter’s relationship with UEFA has been frosty would be an understatement. While some of the European teams have under-performed in the World Cup it is still the center of the football universe.

One could also make the argument that teams like Austria and Turkey, middle of the road European squads, are probably better than many of the teams from other Confederations. I saw this first-hand last year while covering Honduras for the World Cup. They were dispatched rather easily by Turkey and Israel in the lead up to the World Cup. It is a small sample-size but it shows that the 32 best teams do not always make the World Cup.

Three and a half spots seems to be the right amount of spots for CONCACAF at this time. With Mexico and the USA likely to take the first two spots it gives the rest of the confederation one and a half spots to fight for. Costa Rica has certainly come on recent years but they are not exactly set in stone as the third best team in CONCACAF. Honduras, meanwhile, has slipped in recent months barely qualifying for the 2015 Gold Cup. There are plenty of opportunities for other teams to come in and earn a spot to the World Cup.

Perhaps if Canada were to ever take the next step in becoming a quality national team or if FIFA were to expand the tournament beyond 32 teams, then things might be different. But given the demands for spots in other parts of the world and the lack of quality beyond Mexico and the USA then three and a half spots might just be the right amount of CONCACAF for now.