I write this article just a day after FIFA met to decide the allocation of World Cup qualifying spots for 2014. In what was an unsurprising and ultimately fair move, Africa will revert back to five qualifiers rather than the six allocated for South Africa 2010 with South America quite rightly being upgraded to 5.5/6 spots.
CONCACAF are moaning they have been hard done by with their allocation of spots but their results at the finals remain unimpressive and their allocation is more than fair.
This four year cycle of squabbling for World Cup qualifying allocations is politically tiresome exercise that for all intents and purposes has not changed the status quo.
Europe and South America dominate the World Cup finals. I don’t resent this situation because these regions produce the best players and most innovative tactics.
The World Cup finals format in all its glory is a imperfect system to decide a champion. The area that can be drastically improved is the World Cup qualifying format.
Of all six confederations I believe only two have the optimum qualifying format, Europe and Africa. The optimum format includes 3 important factors: fairest competition, number of games and revenue generated.
The perfect number of games I think for all the relevant stakeholders (players, clubs and the national teams) is around 10-12 games. Australia’s move to Asia is a fine example of tapping potential revenue. Huge fixtures against Japan generated massive interest.
Even the lesser known teams such as Qatar and Iraq drew crowds in excess of 50,000. This is a win for the FFA, for the AFC and for FIFA. The Asian region needs adjusting but more about that later.
Australia’s move to Asia got me thinking about the potential of the American region, North, South and Central America. I believe the next bold step in world football would be to amalgamate the Americas in to one big Confederation.
With massive markets in the USA and Canada, which still have massive room for growth, the possibilities are immense!
Let’s break down the numbers and look at the possibilities. The CONCACAF has 40 member nations and South America (CONMEBOL) has 10. The big problem with the CONCACAF region is the quality of those 40 nations and this lack of quality is why CONCACAF is stagnating as a region. South America is not without its problems either.
The most obvious being the gruelling length of its 18 match series. By combining all the Americas, a number of problems in world football can be solved.
The qualifying format is easily sorted when eight spots available. Seed teams like Brazil, USA, Mexico etc and then dissolve the weaker Caribbean teams with knockout playoffs leaving 28 or 32 teams therefore having four groups of 7/8 teams. Meaning there are 12 (with a maximum of 14) hard fought games.
A clear picture of the potential this idea has is starting to form. Imagine a seven team group consisting of Brazil, USA, Uruguay, Canada, Cuba, El Salvador and Barbados.
All of a sudden the USA/Canadian public is exposed to yearly matches involving teams like Brazil and Argentina. At the moment every four year cycle just sees USA v Mexico as the big matches.
Now start to add up the benefits that this new America’s region would bring. Real “big” games for massive money markets in the USA and Canada.
Fewer games for the overworked players from South America and combine that with less travel. Madrid – New York or London – Toronto is a far shorter flight than Milan – Rio. So now the European club bosses are a little happier. A new and improved Copa America could be set up and hosted around this super region.
Let’s face it, the GOLD cup is a bit of a joke and the Copa America loses credibility when you have to have invitee nations (this year it’s Mexico and Japan) to make up the numbers. Other benefits included exposing smaller Central American nations to Brazil and Argentina and raising the profile of football to the people of these countries.
The second part of this world football ‘shake up’ is an already discussed idea to split the AFC into 2, East and West Asia. This idea has already been commented on by a few leading Asian football correspondents.
Basically it involves all the Middle Eastern teams with Uzbekistan, India etc in one qualifying set up and the East Asian teams (Japan, Korea, Australia etc) on the other side. It also involves Oceania in one way or another being absorbed into the East Asian region.
This split serves the Middle East’s need to always have a qualifier into the World Cup and solves the NZ problem.
This solution for Asia has already been discussed at length but (correct me if I am wrong) there is no precedence for the idea to have all the “American” nations pooled together to revamp a stagnating region.
CONCACAF is going in circles without meaningful/tougher competition, South America qualifying is too long and too grueling, the time zones line up, travel is lessened, star South Americans play less games (this is sorely needed for player welfare), the US and Canada get more meaningful games.
The solution is simple.
Sooner rather than later FIFA needs to combine all of America
Can you find meaningful fault in this grand idea?
P.S. I would love for this idea to gain traction and anyone reading this has the necessary means to pass this on to a Jesse Fink or Tim Vickery at BBC or anyone at say ESPN or even US Soccer. Please do so.