On American Integration: The False Promise
Posted on October 31, 2012 3:01 pm
Previously, we addressed the institutional and political reasons for which a partial exodus to CONMEBOL is unfeasible. One option left on the table, however, is that of a total union: one in which both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL dissolve in favor of a new confederation with 45 FIFA-affiliated members (and hopefully a less convoluted acronym). The hope of an expanded Copa América with CONCACAF participation invariably leads to considerations of a more comprehensive step; the following argument will discuss the reality of such a fusion.
The 2016 Copa América would already provide CONCACAF’s finest the opportunity to test themselves against more demanding opponents, as well as reap significant financial rewards from participating in a tournament of greater international relevance than the Gold Cup. Those who advocate a full union, though, eye an entry into another major South American competition: the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying league (the Copa Libertadores is left out of this discussion, as CONCACAF clubs can already access that tournament through guest spots).
At some point, pretty much every Mexico fan has dreamed of seeing el Tri take the field in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Santiago and other South American outposts, as well as hosting some of the world’s greatest selecciones at the Estadio Azteca; even if the road to the World Cup finals got tougher, they reason, the challenge and experience would be far preferable to their current lot. In recent years, US supporters have expressed similar desires, and with good reason: the South American “Super League” is arguably the greatest in world football. Games against Brazil and Argentina practically hype themselves; the rest of CONMEBOL’s membership offer a mix of stunning individual skill, free-flowing technical play and a remarkable variety of difficult environments, from the cauldron of Barranquilla to the literally rarefied air of La Paz. The only way for the rest of America to get in on the action is through the aforementioned union of confederations.
Here, I must break these heartfelt aspirations with an uncomfortable truth:
If CONCACAF and CONMEBOL combine, the Super League is OVER.
The first reason involves the number of fixtures, itself already a cause for concern among the European employers of most South American star players. In a hypothetical Pan-American Football Confederation (with the Spanish acronym CPF), teams would have to qualify for such a final stage; assuming a semifinal round with four-team groups, whoever reaches the Super League would have played no fewer than 24 matches in their qualifying campaign, an excessively high number even before shoehorning Copa América qualifying into the same four-year window. The second reason is more decisive still: assuming the CPF retained the current berths for CONCACAF and CONMEBOL (3.5 and 4.5, respectively), it would be simply nonsensical to have a final 10-team group in which no fewer than eight qualify for the World Cup finals.
Some more realistic qualifying arrangements for the CPF can be taken into consideration by adapting the formats used by other Confederations of comparable size (the current FIFA rankings are used for seeding purposes).
Principle: The more direct and dangerous, the better.
Format: The 10 lowest-ranked teams are paired together for home-and-away playoffs. The five survivors, along with the 35 participants that received a bye, are separated into eight groups of five. The group winners qualify for the World Cup finals; everyone else goes home.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
Principle: Everyone should play in the same round, no matter how abysmal the mismatch.
Format: The 45 FIFA-affiliated CPF members get split into three groups of seven and three groups of eight. The group winners all qualify for the World Cup finals; the four best runners-up (not counting results against the team that finished last, in the case of the groups of eight) get paired together for home-and-away playoffs, the winners of which also qualify.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Turks and Caicos Islands
Principle: The best teams should get more games against each other.
Format: The 26 lowest-ranked teams are paired together for home-and-away playoffs. The 13 survivors, along with the 19 participants who received a bye, are split into eight groups of four. The winners and runners-up (16 in total) are separated into two final groups of eight; the top four in each qualify for the World Cup finals.
Sample second-round groups:
Sample final-round group:
Only the latter option would offer the US, Mexico, Jamaica or Central American nations a stronger final qualifying group (from top to bottom) than the current Hexagonal; and the 20 fixtures would leave no room for Copa América qualifying in the same four-year calendar.
Furthermore, we must take into account the perspective of teams that are already living the Super League dream. The likes of Peru, Venezuela and Bolivia get to play 18 matches against high-quality opponents, including two home matches against Argentina and Brazil, every World Cup cycle. Why would any of them (or Argentina and Brazil, for that matter) pass up what they have now for one of the above options, even with an easier path to the finals? Presented with such an outcome, I highly doubt anyone would vote in favor of moving CONMEBOL in this direction.
If CONCACAF members want to play more games against South American opposition, and if CONMEBOL wishes to get more money out of the North American market without diluting its own competitions, the expanded Copa América is the perfect venue for both sides to achieve their goals. Further integration offers fewer benefits than you think, while guaranteeing higher costs than those who already take part in the Super League are willing to bear.
1 – As a top seed, they would get the “benefit” of avoiding all the teams they actually wanted to play.
2 – Keep in mind that Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and the US would miss out on all the big games in this outcome.