The far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to reshape CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, according to CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani.
In an interview with OneSoccer's Gareth Wheeler, Montagliani said changes will have to be figured out. As complicated as clubs returning to play could be, international competition is likely as complex.
“I think on the balance of probabilities in terms of what’s happened so far and what likely will to continue to happen, the current World Cup format will have to be changed, which means, ultimately, that the Hex will have to be changed into some other form,” Montagliani said. “Obviously it will be bigger, but what that number is, I don't know until we have a calendar.
Under normal circumstances, CONCACAF was set to host two qualifying formats in the buildup to 2022, with one being familiar and another entirely new.
The former would be the Hexagonal, combining the confederation’s top-six ranked nations based on the FIFA World Rankings published after the June 2020 window. The latter would take CONCACAF nations ranked 7-35 from the same rankings and advance through a group-stage format that leads to one country facing the fourth-place finisher of the Hex to determine the CONCACAF representative in the FIFA intercontinental playoff.
Whatever emerges from this period, Montagliani said maintaining sporting integrity is of the utmost importance.
“Yes, you’re going to have to use FIFA rankings to start somewhere because that’s the reality of our confederation,” Montagliani said. “In terms of having 35, which is a weird number to start with – I wish we had a better number, it would make it a little easier for groups.
“So, you’re going to have to do some sort of elimination process and then eventually get into some group-stage process. But, I don’t know that yet until we know what the FIFA calendar is going to look like.”
Up to now, CONCACAF has already postponed Olympic qualifiers for what are now the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo. The semifinals and finals of the CONCACAF Nations League have also been suspended until a further date.