COSTA RICA SPORTS – Following the improved displays by Costa Rica, Mexico and United States of America (USA) at the recently concluded FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil, Jeff Webb, president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), believes the region deserves an additional spot at the prestigious global event in the future.
Currently, CONCACAF has three guaranteed spots, plus a possible fourth via a play-off with a team from the Oceania region.
“We as administrators talk about the Confederation having another spot. I believe now we have shown the world that we earned it, we deserve it,” said Webb at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, yesterday.
CONCACAF was represented by four teams, Honduras being the other addition, at the 2014 World Cup, and only Honduras failed to advance from their group comprising 1998 champion France, Switzerland and Ecuador.
USA, a third place winner at the 1930 tournament, made it out of the Group G, widely considered the ‘Group of Death’, behind eventual winners Germany, and ahead of Portugal and Ghana.
Costa Rica surprised and emerged unbeaten atop Group D, which consisted of three former champions in Italy, Uruguay and England, before being knocked out in the quarter-final by third-placed finishers, the Netherlands.
Mexico also survived a tricky Group A involving host and perennial favourites Brazil, Cameroon and a Croatia team that placed third in 1998.
“It’s very unfortunate that we have a confederation such as Asia that didn’t win one game in the World Cup. Africa got two teams through to the round of 16, so I believe on the field of play that the members representing CONCACAF have provided us with ammunition to go forward and say, ‘we have proven ourselves in the field of play’,” noted Webb.
He continued: “It’s not based on numbers. It’s not based on historical data. It’s based on performance on the field, and that’s what it should be.”
CONCACAF is the third-most successful FIFA confederation of the six, despite having the third-fewest countries. The US is the only country outside of Europe and South America to receive a medal in the World Cup, finishing third in 1930. They also reached the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals and the 2009 Confederations Cup final. Mexico has finished sixth in both the 1970 and 1986 World Cups and won the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup and the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Webb, who was elected CONCACAF president in 2012, believes that this has been a historic World Cup for the confederation and its impact is tremendous.
“We only have three and a half spots and we were able to convert the half spot into the fourth spot. For us it has been historic in the context, for the first time to get 75 per cent of our membership of our representation through to the next round. Only, of course, CONMEBOL (South America) did better of the six confederations.
“For us now, the challenge lies in how do we prepare ourselves to take the next step, because now the bar has been set,” said Webb.
“I have always criticised our confederation for lacking that killer instinct in a major international tournament. We lack that killer instinct that you see from Germany, a Brazil or Argentina team. That desire, that hunger to cross the finish line and just win the game. We always seem complacent to sit back, and to me that’s one of the shifts going forward. As a confederation, I always felt that I think that’s what we never had,” the CONCACAF boss added.
“In the game between Mexico and Holland I was sitting in the stadium, and in the 88th minute I was already into the semi-final, because if Mexico had won the game, then we would have a quarter-final with Mexico versus Costa Rica. Then of course, we would end up with one team in the semi-final. This is something that is lacking in CONCACAF, and we will have to push for that culture shift,” said Webb.
But getting that extra spot, Webb admits, will be difficult despite the good display by the regional teams at the World Cup.
“The challenge is going to be, who is going to give up their spot? Oceania doesn’t have a guaranteed spot and, for me, they should. And if they don’t have a spot as a confederation then you will have to ask why then they exist,” said Webb.
“If I am from Europe I will say, well I have three or four teams in your last three semi-finals. I won the last two World Cups (actually three),” he added.
When quizzed as to the possible expansion of the 32 teams, Webb was not too enthused.
“What does that do to the quality? Would people be interested sitting down watching a tournament that doesn’t necessarily have the same kind of quality? And, if you expand it, you have to expand it to 40, and I am not necessarily sure we can maintain the quality there,” the FIFA vice-president argued.