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Women’s World Cup will expand to 32 team in 2023

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The Women’s World Cup is ready to expand, in a move which certainly benefit the confederation which landed seven of the eight quarterfinalists at this summer’s tournament.

The 2023 tournament will include 32 teams, and the short-term results will be more growth of the game worldwide as well as a few more blowouts in the group stage.

[ MORE: Lampard praises Pulisic ]

The tournament expansion also means the end of poor third-place teams getting spots in the knockout rounds.

According to FIFA, “The expansion reaches far beyond the eight additional participating teams; It means that, from now on, dozens more member associations will organie their women’s football program knowing they have a realistic chance of qualifying. The FIFA Women’s World Cup is the most powerful trigger for the professionalization of the women’s game, but it comes but once every four years and is only the top of a much greater pyramid.”

The big winners here are Europe and CONCACAF teams not named USA and Canada.

New CONCACAF World Cup qualifying structure is downright outrageous

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On Wednesday, CONCACAF released its new model for qualification to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. While the number of qualifying teams stays the same – three-and-a-half – the new method is an utterly baffling concoction of wealth division and competitive nonsense that leaves teams at the bottom with almost no prayer of competing and those in the middle suddenly confused at where they fit in.

CONCACAF released a video combing through its new qualification method, stating that teams will be tiered by FIFA rankings, with those at the top gaining a significant, almost insurmountable advantage. While CONCACAF qualifying has always been segmented in the recent past, with teams like Bermuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, and Montserrat forced to slog through three rounds of preliminary qualifiers before reaching the meat and potatoes, the top teams like Mexico, the United States, and Costa Rica still had to play through a group stage before reaching the famous Hex.

Now, in the new format, the top six FIFA-ranked CONCACAF sides go straight through to the Hex, no group stage needed, with the top three earning CONCACAF’s three automatic qualifying bid. Meanwhile, the bottom 29 – twenty-nine teams! – are unable to earn an automatic bid at all, instead playing a Champions League-like group stage/knockout round combo for a spot in a playoff against the Hex’s fourth-place side for one half-bid, with the winner entering into the intercontinental playoff against a TBA federation. Breathe, you’re not the only one confused.

Right away, the North American federation has succumbed to an outrageous imbalance of power, with the infamously imperfect FIFA rankings dictating who is even eligible for a World Cup automatic bid and who is only good enough for a half-bid via a long and arduous trek through a series of lower-level matches before a playoff against the Hex’s fourth-place finisher?

CONCACAF will argue it is actually doing the lower-tiered teams a favor, giving one of them a better opportunity to reach a World Cup as they are separated from the top teams and able to compete against themselves for the chance at a spot, but in reality, the federation is creating a gargantuan rift that could see an exhausted an ill-equipped team set up for an intercontinental slaughter. While the federation wished to avoid having three-quarters of the teams eliminated two years out from the big dance – a legitimate problem – this new format hardly solves that issue, seeing the bottom-tier group stage concluding by the fall of 2020, with 21 teams eliminated at that point. The knockout stage will then eliminate another four teams in March 2021, and another two in June. For the top teams, they will play six fewer competitive games with the straight shot into the Hex, instead leaving them with just five international windows of Hexagonal games (September, October, and November of 2020 plus March and September of 2021) to savor.

The federation is also robbed of its more intriguing matchups, with the top teams now unable to play the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, Haiti, or St. Vincent & the Grenadines, all who made the group stage last qualifying cycle and got a chance to pit themselves against the best. Trinidad & Tobago surprised and reached the Hex, while Guatemala and Canada came close in fun matchups that mattered.

In addition, the system creates a confusing dilemma for those teams on the cusp of the Hex. Is it better for a team on the edge like El Salvador, Panama, or Canada to be in the top-tier round robin with a shot at an automatic bid should they surprise over the course of 10 matches? Remember, the bottom two teams in the Hex are fully eliminated. Or is it better to be in the lower-tier creation against theoretically lesser opponents, only able to earn the half-bid but progressing as the favored side for much of the qualifying cycle? If they prefer the latter, would teams throw games between now and then to drop in the rankings and not risk a spot in the Hex?

While there are understandable problems the federation looked to solve with a new qualification format, their creation instead raises far more questions than it solves, and creating a significant power division using an imperfect ranking system spells disaster before the cycle even gets under way. While the old system had its drawbacks, this is unquestionably a step back for the federation that sees competitive balance further eroded instead of progress forward.

Explaining CONCACAF’s new World Cup qualification format

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So, CONCACAF have changed the way teams will qualify for the 2022 World Cup and in a word it is, complicated.

In short, this system will benefit the big boys.

Did this format really need changing?

The governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean released the new format on Wednesday and there was then plenty of confusion among fans across the region as to what all this means.

With the CONCACAF Nations League kicking off this fall, there are plenty of changes in the region and the main theme throughout all of these alterations is to give more meaningful international games and give extra incentives for smaller nations to not only qualify for big tournaments, but play qualifiers against some of the bigger nations.

Still, when it comes to the new World Cup qualification format, things get clouded a little.

This is where we come in. Here’s an explanation of the changes and what they actually mean.


  • Based on their FIFA rankings after the game window in June 2020, the top six teams in the CONCACAF region will compete in the final round of World Cup qualifying, the Hexagonal.
  • Hex matches will take place across September, October and November of 2020 and March and September of 2021.
  • The top three teams from the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup.
  • In June 2020 the second part of qualifying will begin. CONCACAF teams ranked 7-35 according to their FIFA ranking will take part in a group stage and knockout round.
  • The 29 teams will be divided into five groups of four teams and three groups of three teams, with the games taking place in September, October and November of 2020.
  • The first-place teams in each of the eight groups will qualify for the knockout round.
  • Quarterfinals, semifinals and final matches of the knockout round will be played in home-and-away direct elimination format during March, June and September 2021.
  • Winner of the knockout phase will then play the fourth-place team from the Hex in a home-and-away playoff in October 2021.
  • The winner of the CONCACAF playoff will then play in FIFA’s Intercontinental playoff for a place in the World Cup.

Okay, so you’ve grabbed some aspirin after your lie down. Are you still with us?

This new format is great news for the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica. As for Honduras, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, they know if they finish in fifth and sixth place in the Hex will not have to take part in a huge group stage and knockout round competition.

But the team who finish in fourth now know they aren’t heading straight for FIFA’s Intercontinental playoff for a place in the World Cup.

Adding an extra playoff round to determine who represents CONCACAF in the Intercontinental playoff seems a little bit much but it does give plenty of the smaller nations in the region hope that they can go on a fairytale run in the second part of qualifying, then beat the fourth-place team from the Hex, then an Intercontinental playoff to reach the 2022 World Cup.

Easy, right?

The upcoming Nations League games now have extra significance as wins for the likes of Canada and El Salvador will push them towards the Hex.

Judging on their displays at the Gold Cup this summer, Curacao and Haiti are also two teams who will certainly fancy their chances of making the most of this new long and winding route towards potential World Cup qualification.

This is complex, but overall it gives some chances to the smaller CONCACAF nations as well as keeping the status quo.

Senator introduces USWNT equal pay bill after letter from NCAA coach

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A letter from the women’s soccer coach at West Virginia University has spurred a politician to act on behalf of the United States women’s national team.

The Mountaineers’ head coach for nearly a quarter century, Nikki Izzo-Brown wrote the missive to senator Joe Manchin following the USWNT’s fourth World Cup title, and Manchin is taking a political step in response.

[ MORE: Takeaways from USWNT win ]

Manchin has introduced a bill on the Senate floor which says federal funding for hosting the 2026 World Cup will be withheld until the USWNT is paid on equal terms with the men.

According to a Huffington Post report, the money would normally go to host cities, U.S. Soccer, CONCACAF, and FIFA.

Here’s Manchin (from NBC News):

“The clear unequitable pay between the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams is unacceptable and I’m glad the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team latest victory is causing public outcry,” Senator Manchin said. “They are the best in the world and deserve to be paid accordingly.”

Many noted the “equal pay” chants at the World Cup final, and the USWNT has been trying to force the issue for some time.

The other part of this is that the USWNT is believed to currently be in negotiations with the federation about equal pay, and 2026 is a long way in the future. Also, it would seem likely the bill would be deemed a political ploy in the Senate, but hey, it’s something.

The news comes on the night that USWNT star Megan Rapinoe is making the rounds on several national news programs including MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Berhalter criticizes CONCACAF for not using video review

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CHICAGO (AP) U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter has criticized soccer officials for not using video review in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

While FIFA instituted video assistant referees for last year’s men’s World Cup and this year’s Women’s World Cup, the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Football did not adopt it for its premier tournament.

“One thing I’m a little bit critical of CONCACAF is not having VAR,” Berhalter said Saturday. “I think it’s a necessity in today’s modern game. I’m disappointed with that decision. I don’t think it’s a decision that’s good for the game. Having said that, I think the referees in this tournament have been fine.”

Mario Escobar of Guatemala was picked as the referee for Sunday’s Gold Cup final between the U.S. and Mexico.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports