Victor Montagliani

World Cup qualifying
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Hex no more: CONCACAF chief expects changes to World Cup qualifying

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CONCACAF’s new World Cup qualifying method was incredibly unpopular with most of the confederation, and now it’s going to have to alter it.

The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the international calendar in a big way, and CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani says the confederation will have to look beyond the celebrated six-team qualifying format popularly called “The Hex.”

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“I think on the balance of probabilities … 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,” said Montagliani, the former Canada Soccer boss (video below). “Obviously it will be bigger, but what that number is, I don’t know until we have a calendar.”

As it stands, the huge beneficiary of an expanded field is Canada (and every team underneath it). They were seventh in the FIFA rankings and would only have hope of qualifying for the World Cup if they won the tournament pitting teams No. 7 and under, then beat the fourth-place team from the Hex, and then won an interconfederational playoff.

The top six teams are Mexico, the USMNT, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, and El Salvador. An expanded field could not include all 40-plus members, but here are the next 10 sides (if it goes to four groups of four):

Canada
Curacao
Panama
Haiti
Trinidad and Tobago
Antigua and Barbuda
Guatemala
St. Kitts and Nevis
Suriname
Nicaragua

The U.S. should still qualify given its status in the region, but we saw how that went in 2018. Here’s looking forward to the new format.

FIFA vice president: International games could be off until 2021

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International soccer might not be played until 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions and the need to give club competitions the chance to resume, a FIFA vice president said Monday.

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Victor Montagliani, a Canadian who is president of the governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean, has been heading a FIFA working group formulating plans to deal with the implications of the world’s biggest sport being largely shut down since last month.

FIFA already has called off matches between countries that were due to be played in March and June. Montagliani, CONCACAF’s president, believes the September, October and November windows for national team matches could be scrapped.

“I personally think that might be a bit of a challenge, not so much because of just the health issues around the world and the various degrees of preparedness, but also committing to international travel as soon as we come back,” Montagliani said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think that domestic football is a priority. September is still in the books, but I would garner to say that I’m not sure it’s there on solid ground the way things are trending right now.”

The return of fans into packed stadiums could be dependent on a vaccine for the COVID-19 disease being ready — and that might not be until 2021.

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“If we get the green light to play a football match. I highly doubt that first football match will be with fans. I just can’t see that. I think that would be taken a massive risk,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it’ll be a phased in approach, just like the rest of society is going to be is then in terms of us trying to get back to normal here.”

A full resumption of soccer in 2020 might not be possible in parts of the world hardest hit by the pandemic, including Europe and North America.

“If you take that across international boundaries, that’s a significant issue,” Montagliani said. “And so, yes absolutely, there’s always that possibility.”

CONCACAF’s hexagonal that determines the region’s three direct qualifiers is to start in the fall with each nation playing two games each in September, October and November. The United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras and either El Salvador or Canada will compete.

Scheduling will be discussed further by a working group featuring the six confederations.

[ MORE: Tottenham reverse decision to furlough employees ]

“I’m fairly confident the March window in 2021 will be fine,” Montagliani said. “The priority is to help our national leagues . then look at our events.”

The qualifying format for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar might have to be curtailed with the time frame tightening to play matches.

“We’re likely going to be having to seriously look at reformatting some of our events,” Montagliani said. “We’re committed to our final four (in the Nations League). But we have other events that we have to probably look at reformatting, whether it’s some of our youth competitions, even our World Cup qualifying, where we’re going to have to, in the balance of probabilities, look at how that would work in a situation where the calendar there is now less than what we expected it to be.”

CONCACAF’s Montagliani rules out future finals on same day

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CHICAGO (AP) The president of soccer’s North and Central American and Caribbean body refused to address FIFA’s contention that having the finals Women’s World Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America on the same day was planned, not inadvertent.

CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani has said the scheduling was a “clerical error.” FIFA issued a statement last month saying it resulted from “a comprehensive consultancy process, which has involved all key stakeholders.”

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“First of all, the games are going to be played tomorrow, so whether I beg to differ or not is really irrelevant, quite frankly,” Montagliani said Saturday at Soldier Field. “There is a truth to what happened. And I’ve been very clear, it’s something that shouldn’t happen in the future, and it won’t happen in the future.”

Players on the American women’s team have been critical of the decision. The U.S. women play the Netherlands in the World Cup final on Sunday at 11 a.m. EDT, and the U.S. men face Mexico in the Gold Cup final at 9:15 p.m. EDT.

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

Barcelona against haste of bigger Club World Cup

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MIAMI (AP) The president of Barcelona spoke out against the haste to introduce a 24-team Club World Cup in 2021 ahead of the FIFA Council deciding Friday whether to approve the pilot of the enlarged tournament.

European clubs have publicly resisted FIFA’s bid to replace the current seven-team annual Club World Cup, which is played annually in December, with an expanded quadrennial version in June-July.

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Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu backs a revamp of the competition, just not until the entire calendar for club and national team matches is reconfigured for 2024 and beyond to cope.

“We have to take care of the footballers,” Bartomeu said in an interview with The Associated Press in Miami, where the FIFA Council is meeting. “We have to take care about the way of training and the vacation they need to recover every season that they do. If the calendar is not modified, of course we cannot agree.”

In 2021, FIFA envisages the window for international matches – which is likely to include 2022 World Cup qualifiers – running May 31-June 8. The Club World Cup would be held June 17-July 4, while the African Cup of Nations and CONCACAF Gold Cup could be played July 5-July 31. European club seasons typically start around mid-August.

FIFA believes the proposed 24-team Club World Cup would “promote and grow football for the benefit of all confederations, member associations, leagues, clubs and fans,” according to a task force report on new FIFA competitions seen by the AP.

In the first edition, South America would have six slots – one based on previous performances. Three each would go to teams from Africa, Asia and CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America. Oceania would get one representative. The confederations would decide their own qualification process, whereas now each continental champion qualifies for the Club World Cup along with the host country.

“We know the current form doesn’t work,” FIFA Vice President Victor Montagliani told the AP. “The top clubs in the world have fans all over the world. So, I think it’s a natural progression of that competition.”

The expanded tournament would start with eight groups of three, with the winners advancing to the quarterfinals. Teams would play two to five matches over a maximum of 18 days.

According to a FIFA document seen by the AP, the governing body’s council will be asked on Friday to approve a trial 24-team Club World Cup running from June 17-July 4, 2021. That is the slot previously reserved for the Confederations Cup, which serves as a test event in a host nation a year before the World Cup.

“An opportunity to keep growing the competition will always be accepted from our league and our clubs,” Enrique Bonilla, the president of the Mexican league, told the AP. “It helps to give exposure and it helps to make clubs from other parts of the world to be more competitive, and to grow, and to learn from those great players that are now playing in Europe.”

Also Friday, the FIFA Council will be asked to approve the recommendations of a feasibility study into adding another 16 teams for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The council will be asked to allow FIFA and Qatar to jointly submit a proposal on using “one or more additional co-host countries” in the Persian Gulf before a final decision in June on enlarging the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

A document sent to the FIFA Council says its members will be asked if they agree with the report’s conclusion that World Cup expansion is “feasible provided that neighboring countries host some matches.”

The FIFA study seen by the AP says Qatar would not be forced to share games with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates unless those countries restore diplomatic and travel ties with Doha. Because of their neutrality in the situation, Kuwait and Oman are indicated to be the current possible options identified by FIFA to host games in 2022 but their stadium infrastructure is only briefly assessed in a FIFA report.

Venues in at least one more country would be required to cope with the additional 16 teams and 16 games under the expansion proposal.

“As long as it’s well studied and well thought out, I think CONCACAF would have no issues supporting that,” said Montagliani, who leads the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football.

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

CONCACAF refuses to sanction Canadian team in USL

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The best part of soccer is definitely the politics, amirite?

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to avoid the CONCACAF palace intrigue inside of Wednesday’s news out of Ottawa, where CONCACAF has decided not to sanction the Ottawa Fury for 2019 play in the USL.

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As a refresher, there are Canadian professional teams in three separate leagues right now. The Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact, and Toronto FC are in Major League Soccer, seven teams are slated to kick off the Canadian Premier League (CPL) in 2019, and the Ottawa Fury participate in the United Soccer League.

Or do they?

CONCACAF has informed the Fury that it will not be sanctioned for play in the USL this season, with the new CPL billed as a Tier 1 league that takes away the “exceptional circumstance” that allows Ottawa to participate in another nation’s league (the USL). Ottawa has played in the USL in 2017 and 2018 after playing its first three seasons in the on-hiatus NASL.

The main controversies from this ruling are serious concerns for both the CPL, USL, CONCACAF, FIFA, and the many staffers and players who work for the Ottawa Fury:

  1. In a press release regarding the decision, Ottawa pointed out that CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani is “the former president of Canada Soccer, where he was the chief promoter of the new Canadian Premier League (CPL) that will start play in 2019.”
  2. Per The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio, “The USL is in the final stages of scheduling for the 2019 season. In addition, Ottawa has sold more than 1,500 tickets in the midst of its renewal campaign, and has 12 players under contract, with several other deals pending according to (Ottawa CEO Mark) Goudie.”

So, yeah, not a great look. The Montagliani point alone scuttles the logical floor of CONCACAF’s argument.

Ottawa’s decision to stay in the USL in lieu of joining the upstart CPL — a league we must say is looking very promising — came after plenty of negotiation. In September, CPL commissioner David Clanachan said the other clubs were willing to let Ottawa operate for the 2019 season under the same parameters that governed their planned USL campaign.

As the Ottawa press release states, however, there was neither a protest from the Canadian Soccer Association nor the United States Soccer Federation, but this decision came from above: CONCACAF.

That’s tricky, especially since three Canadian teams play in Major League Soccer, and there has been talk that Liga MX teams could join with it to make a North American super league (though such a league could exist while its teams participate in domestic leagues, and goodness knows it couldn’t be called the NASL).

And what about Toronto FC II playing in USL League One, as well as several amateur teams in the newly-rebranded USL League Two (formerly the PDL).

Cans and cans of worms, potentially, yes?

It seems likely that this move isn’t about this season, and that the Fury will be strong-armed into joining the CPL for the 2020 season while being allowed to participate in the USL in 2019.

And let’s face it: As unjust as this ruling seems to be, the U.S. and Canada are among the only higher level leagues in the world where teams cross borders to play.

The biggest exceptions are Monaco playing in France’s Ligue 1; Cardiff City, Swansea City, and Newport County play in the Football League. That likely saves the MLS teams, at least until the CPL grows into newer, pricier boots. And can’t teams like the Fury make an argument about Welsh side Newport playing in England’s fourth tier (maybe the argument is tough to make without an open, promotion and relegation system).

North American soccer: Growing sport, growing leagues, just as much confusion.