CONCACAF's Small Victory

Thursday, March 03, 2011 | View Comments

- Jason Davis

Something I failed to note properly this morning when passing along the news that FIFA will not be granting CONCACAF an additional World Cup spot for Brazil 2014 is the impact of a change in playoff format, and how it potentially benefits the region. While Jack wasn't able to convince his homies in Zurich that North America and the Caribbean deserved another guaranteed spot in the tourney, the day isn't without some kind of small victory for the confederation.

The AP story noted that the playoff (or play-in, if you prefer) nations will now be drawn against each other rather than placed into predetermined match-ups. In 2009, fourth place CONCACAF Hexagonal finisher Costa Rica lost to Uruguay, the fifth place finisher in CONMEBOL. In the other playoff, Oceania's New Zealand beat Asia's Bahrain.

The chances of CONCACAF getting a fourth team into the World Cup increase dramatically if the playoff qualifying side doesn't automatically have to face a South American country. Playing New Zealand or Bahrain is much more appealing than facing Uruguay, and provides a better chance of success. While qualifying will likely shake out differently for 2014, most of the reasonable permutations would have the CONCACAF playoff team favored or in a coin flip scenario. It would take a shocking turn of events (like Australia finishing fifth in Asia, or a CONCACF minnow somehow pipping second in one of the final groups) for that not to be the case.

If CONCACAF wants a fourth World Cup spot guaranteed in the future, winning a playoff series would a good first step towards proving it's deseved. After that, countries other than the United States winning games at the World Cup would help.

The playoff change is the silver lining in the dark cloud of FIFA rejecting CONCACAF's push for an additional slot. Considering how undeserved a guaranteed fourth spot would have been based on past performance, this small victory is in some ways a major one.

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