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CONCACAF to unveil revised WC qualifying format soon

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CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer said Tuesday that the region should have a revised World Cup qualifying-format proposal to go to FIFA in the next 10 days. CONCACAF had to abandon its plans to go to a new qualifying system — which would have seen the final eight surviving teams placed into two groups of four — with the top two in each two groups surviving. Because FIFA members rejected CONCACAF’s push to go from 3.5 spots to a full four for the 2014 World Cup, that new qualifying system just won’t work, Blazer admitted. Previously, CONCACAF placed the final six teams into one large group. The top three qualified for the World Cup, while the fourth went into a playoff. With CONCACAF’s fourth team still needing to go the playoffs, Blazer said it was impossible to find the four international match days needed to make the new qualifying system work. CONCACAF would have needed to find two playoff dates for the second-place teams in each group to play each other — and then two more for the loser of that game to go to a World Cup playoff. Blazer said the proposed CONCACAF system, with four guaranteed spots, would have required less matches to decide — making clubs around the world happy. “We felt four was in the best interests of everyone in the world,” said Blazer. “It would have been far better of we had gotten four.” But not the other FIFA members. When the confederations met behind closed doors in Switzerland, five of the six voted to keep the status quo. “They knew I was angry when I sat in the room with them,” said Blazer. CONCACAF’s push, though, had gone against everything FIFA had pledged about qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. Last year, at the World Cup in South Africa, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, under pressure over the poor performances of the African sides, pledged that the allocations would not be changed for 2014, a view that FIFA has held to throughout its preparations for Brazil. While CONCACAF was bullish on change, that feeling wasn’t held by the rest of FIFA. The real elephant in the room when dealing with change is that the CONCACAF push targeted South America. Its added spot would come out of South America. While there aren’t many countries in the region, everyone it sent to South Africa got out of the group stage. It has a track record of success. Heck, the playoff team it sent to the World Cup, Uruguay, made it to the final four. Africa, which, despite the occasional heroics of Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana over the past 20 years, hasn’t turned potential into success. It saw all but one of its teams fall at the group stage. Africa, because of FIFA’s push to improve soccer in the third world, is a sacred cow — despite the fact that the majority of the teams it sends to the World Cup are poor, masked by the occasional Cinderella story. It has five teams. Compare that to Asia, which has 4.5 — and sent South Korea and Japan to the elimination rounds. South Korea, admittedly with lots of controversy, made it to a semifinal in 2002. Compare Africa to CONCACAF — where it’s safe to call the United States and Mexico favourites to make it out of their group stages. That’s why it’s difficult to change. Until Africa enters the debate, it’s hard to see a change in the status quo… unless there is a real downturn in South America. With the next World Cup being held in Brazil, that’s hard to imagine happening anytime soon.

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