Concacaf will get six teams (as many as eight) in new World Cup format

Just as we are again getting all wrapped up in the drama of the Hexagonal, Concacaf's six-team final round of World Cup qualifying, FIFA has come out and announced a plan that could make it obsolete in the long term.

Beginning in 2026, the World Cup will be expanded to 48 teams and a minimum of six Concacaf teams (up to a maximum of eight) will qualify for the finals.

Here are allotments the Bureau of the FIFA Council -- comprised of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the presidents of each of the six confederations -- agreed on at a meeting Thursday in Zurich:

16 Europe (up from 13)
9 Africa (up from 5)
8 Asia (up from 4 or 5)
6 Concacaf (up from 3 or 4)
6 South America (up from 4 or 5)
1 Oceania (from 0 or 1)

That leaves two playoff spots to fill out the field of 48. They would be determined from a new playoff format introduced for the 2026 finals.

The playoff will work as follows:

-- Six teams (one from each confederation except UEFA, plus a second one from the confederation of the host or hosts) will enter;
-- Two teams (based of their FIFA ranking) will be seeded and have first-round byes;
-- The other four teams will be paired and play single knockout games;
-- The two seeds and two knockout winners will play single games with the winners going to the World Cup.

The playoffs will be played in that cycle's World Cup host country as a dress rehearsal in the matter that the Confederations Cup is held now. It is expected to be held in November before the World Cup over the FIFA international window during which intercontinental playoffs are currently held.

There will no Confederations Cup in 2021 because FIFA won't play in Qatar in the summer, and the new playoff format likely signals the end of the Confederations Cup in 2025.

The USA, Mexico and Canada are expected to present a bid as co-hosts for the 2026 World Cup and will be heavily favored to win the right to host the tournament.

In the only case until now with co-hosts, both Japan and South Korea automatically qualified for the 2002 tournament.

FIFA has not decided how many hosts -- if there are more than one -- qualifies automatically. If the USA, Mexico and Canada co-hosted in 2026, that would leave the Hexagonal safe for one more tournament. Three automatic slots would still be up for grabs -- the hosting slots are taken from their confederation's allotment -- and two playoff slots also be on the line.

If a Concacaf team or teams didn't host, Concacaf would be contesting six automatic slots and one playoff slots.

As it is, Victor Montagliani, the Concacaf president, suggested in October his confederation needs to consider a new format for World Cup qualifying that currently ends with the Hexagonal.

23 comments about "Concacaf will get six teams (as many as eight) in new World Cup format".
  1. don Lamb, March 30, 2017 at 11:14 p.m.

    Horrible idea. Not because inclusion is a bad thing, but because it will ruin the qualification process and will hurt the quality of play in the actual tournament. It will create more matchups where one team is significantly better than the other, which will create conservative tactics like we saw in this years' Euro. It will also increase the value of a single point, making a draw more valuable and desirable. Why not create an entirely different tournament similar to the NIT in college basketball? That way, more nations are included, the integrity of the competition is maintained, and the countries such as Panama, Senegal, third tier Euro teams, etc. would actually have a shot at winning instead of trying to hang on for dear life in every game. The tournament would use the same qualifying process as the World Cup, while taking nations 4-7, 14-21, etc. from each region, and would be played at the same time as the World Cup in a different country.

  2. Bob Ashpole, March 31, 2017 at 1:37 a.m.

    I agree. The tournament will become even more of a grind with the poorest soccer being played in the semi-finals and finals.

  3. Christopher Tallmadge, March 31, 2017 at 7:41 a.m.

    FIFA has screwed the pooch with this 48 team nonsense and the format. They should do a doubling of the 1982 format. 12 groups of 4 followed by 8 groups of 3 then quarters, semis & final. That means an extra game for the finalists. Compensate by having slightly larger squads?
    Co-host with Canada. 3 countries would be too messy all the way around and Mexico has had two already.

  4. Fire Paul Gardner Now, March 31, 2017 at 9:41 a.m.

    This is a terrible idea. SA gave the list of countries 33-48 that would have qualified in 2014 if this format had been in place. Not an impressive list. Sure, it would be great for the citizens of those countries but this is going to hurt the tournament as a spectacle. It also adds another knockout round which just increases randomness and encourages teams to play conservatively and hope to win on penalties. We saw this in the Euros last year, which most agree was a pretty terrible tournament.

  5. Kent James, March 31, 2017 at 9:48 a.m.

    48 teams is too many; it diminishes the importance of qualifying (which, after all, takes a lot longer than the final tournament itself). As I proposed before (and Don proposes something similar), I do think there should be a 'small nations' World Cup prior to the real WC, with the finalists getting 2 spots to the real WC. So I like the idea of an 8 team tournament in November of that year (to get to these 8, there would be a qualifying tournament run parallel to the WC regular qualifying, with perhaps the bottom 20% of FIFA ranked teams automatically put in this tournament. By taking these weak nations out of regular qualifying, you'd eliminate the uncompetitive games that currently must be played, and you'd give those on the bottom a chance to win something meaningful (and still allowing a cindarella team the possibility of winning it all). So FIFA, good to be creative, but the proposal needs major revisions.

  6. Gus Keri, March 31, 2017 at 2:14 p.m.

    All the complaints about his new system come from the top ranked teams in the world. But I can tell you that the bottom 150-175 teams are so happy about it. It will bring a new hope to so many countries. Countries that will never come close to make it to the World cup finals will now start dream big. And this will benefit soccer all over the world. for those who complain about the standard of soccer, they can save themselves to the round of 16 in the world cup and let the rest of the world enjoy being part of the big event. I personally will enjoy it. As for CONCACAF, what is the difference between the hexagonal (6 teams) and the semifinal round (12 teams). I was as excited watching the USA playing Guatemala in the semifinals as they were playing Honduras in the Hex. In the new format, the semifinals round will become the final with either 3 groups of 4 teams or 2 groups of 6 teams. I am looking forward to it.

  7. Kent James replied, March 31, 2017 at 2:28 p.m.

    Gus, as my prior comment would suggest, I share your feelings about the lesser teams. My concern is for the final tournament, where I think 48 teams will just be overwhelming (too many games to keep up with, too many non-competitive games in the early rounds). And I'm assuming that it would require teams to play more games, which will likely exhaust and injure the players, so even the later games between high quality teams may suffer. Maybe they could do the first round (to get to 24) while they play the playoff that was mentioned. Also, did I miss something or did they not describe how the 48 team regular tournament would work?

  8. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, March 31, 2017 at 3:42 p.m.

    As I said, it's great for people in countries that now have a greater chance to make it but for the world cup as a spectacle it's a terrible move.

  9. don Lamb replied, March 31, 2017 at 4 p.m.

    Inclusion is good, but not at the expense of the qualifying process or the quality of the tournament itself. Where do you want to stop? Why not let 64 teams in? If lesser soccer nations want a shot at a big tournament, then they should either build up their youth and plan for the long term or be happy to compete in a tournament that they actually have a shot of winning.

  10. Miguel Dedo, March 31, 2017 at 3:33 p.m.

    Who will collect the money? Devaluing the qualification process by expanding the WC field will take money out of the regions, give it to FIFA. Is that a good thing?

  11. Kent James replied, March 31, 2017 at 4:50 p.m.

    Excellent point. It all becomes clear now...follow the money!

  12. don Lamb replied, March 31, 2017 at 11:47 p.m.

    In reality, the money actually will go back to the national federations. FIFA will still get their money, but remember that it is a political organization, and votes are more valuable then pure dollars. The powers in FIFA get the votes in large part because they give so much money back to even the tiniest of national federations. What happens with the money from there is often where the criminal behavior is.

  13. uffe gustafsson, March 31, 2017 at 5:56 p.m.

    Would lesser countries be like Iceland?
    They made the euro really exciting.
    Or the way you guys think, just play one game final w Spain and Germany no need for any other country to show up.
    Just saying.

  14. don Lamb replied, March 31, 2017 at 7:39 p.m.

    Iceland's story was much more exciting than the reality of the soccer that they produced on the pitch.

  15. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, April 2, 2017 at 10:44 a.m.

    It's a nice story but watching them play was dreadful. Same with Northern Ireland. It's great for the folks in those countries but neutrals don't want to see garbage teams like this in a major finals. Do we really need Burkina Faso and Uzbekistan at the world cup? I don't think so.

  16. Gus Keri, March 31, 2017 at 6:25 p.m.

    Kent, the winner of the World cup will play the same amount of games like now, 7 matches, not more. The 48 teams will be split into 16 groups of 3 and top two will move to the round of 32. Also, the level of the lesser teams are improving constantly. By the year 2026, the gap will be reduced significantly. History proves this fact.

  17. Kent James replied, April 3, 2017 at 9:37 a.m.

    Thanks for the info. So now the teams that don't make it out of the first round are out after only 2 games? That format is better for the later games (since there are no more games than before) but worse for the eliminated teams,since they only get to play 2 games. It also will mean there are more likely to be good teams that screw up an early game and don't have the games to make up for it and are eliminated. Still not a fan. I think the current format for the finals works quite well.

  18. R2 Dad, April 1, 2017 at 9:25 p.m.

    Why doesn't FIFA borrow from US youth soccer and play a top tier tournament of the best 32, a middle tournament for the middle 32, and a third tournament for the last 32? If this is such a great idea for youth soccer, certainly it's a great idea for adults, no? It's State Cup on steroids--everyone should love it, si?

  19. Gary Young, April 2, 2017 at 11:02 p.m.

    I say bring Conmebol and Concacaf together and then only give them 8 spots total. That for sure would eliminate all the dead weight.

  20. Gary Young, April 3, 2017 at 9:49 a.m.

    For all of you who would not want to see the quality of the world cup diminish by inviting more countries, do you believe then that Usa has shown enough quality to merit it's own slot in the world cup? Do you honestly think that Euro countries look forward to watching Usa play every 4 years?

  21. don Lamb replied, April 3, 2017 at 8:05 p.m.

    We advanced out of our group in 4 out of the last 6 World Cups. I'm not going to pretend like we are world beaters or that we play great soccer, but we are consistently a decent team. Certainly one of the top 32 in the world, so yeah, I'd be willing to bet that most of the world would agree that the US deserves to be there.

  22. Gary Young replied, April 3, 2017 at 11:13 p.m.

    We have played a boring brand of soccer designed to hang on for dear life and hope for a chance or 2 on a counter. From speaking to several people from other countries, I can tell you that few look forward to seeing our brand of soccer.

  23. don Lamb replied, April 3, 2017 at 11:16 p.m.

    I didn't argue that. But there is no question that we are one of the best 32 teams in the world and that we deserve to be in the World Cup.

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