Discovering the double helix structure of DNA, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the moon landing – there have been many outstanding achievements in the history of humanity. To this list we may now consider the addition of decoding the process involved in World Cup qualifying for the CONCACAF group of footballing nations.
The process began in June 2011 for the 35 member nations which make up the federation of footballing countries from North and Central America. The two and a half year qualifying process was divided into four rounds.
Round One consisted of the 10 lowest ranked teams based on their FIFA co-efficient as at March 2011 playing off in a two legged play off for the right to qualify for Round Two. The highest ranking team playing the lowest ranking team over two legs, the second highest ranking team playing the second lowest ranking team and so on. This resulted in such classics as Dominican Republic v Anguilla and the local derby of US Virgin Islands v British Virgin Islands (combined attendance figures over the two legs of 950 people).
From Round One, five teams progressed to join the 19 teams ranked from positions 25 to 7 inclusive in Round Two. These 24 teams were then divided into six groups of four, with each group seeded according to FIFA rankings. The top team in each group would progress to Round Three after home and away fixtures. With me so far? Good.
Unfortunately, the footballing powerhouse that is the Bahamas did not fulfil their fixtures in the Second Round as their home ground apparently was not available for the scheduled matches and the cost of playing the matches at a neutral venue would prove prohibitive.
Stand out groups in Round Two included Group E which consisted of Guatemala, Belize, Saint Vincent & The Grenadines and Grenada and my personal favourite of Group A which consisted of El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Suriname and Cayman Islands.
The six group winners that progressed from Round Two were then joined by the top six FIFA ranked teams in the federation to make up a total of 12 teams in Round Three. These 12 sides were subsequently divided into three groups of four. Still with me?!
Enter the big boys. The top six ranked teams in CONCACAF as at March 2011 were United States, Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba. These sides were parachuted into Round Three with the three groups of 4 again seeded according to FIFA ranking. The top 2 sides from each of the 3 Groups would then go forward to contest the fourth and final round (don’t worry, I too am tired at this point).
Stand out matches in Round Three included a 7-0 victory for Mexico over Guyana and an 8-1 victory for Honduras over Canada.
The six teams still standing in Round Four then formed one group with final standings to be decided on a home and away basis. Of the top six ranked teams which joined the qualification process in Round Three, only Cuba failed to make the final round, losing out to Panama. The top three from the six would qualify automatically for the World Cup with the 4th place side facing a two legged play off against the winners of the Oceania qualification process.
Round Four fixtures kicked off in February 2013 – still midwinter in the Northern Hemisphere and threw up the unwanted fixture away to the US for Costa Rica. The match was played in near blizzard conditions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Colorado (known to locals as ‘The Dick’ – I kid you not). Poor Costa Rica succumbed to a 1-0 defeat – they don’t get much snow in San Jose.
When the dust settled on qualification, United States, Costa Rica and Honduras had qualified automatically with Mexico sealing the fourth place for CONCACAF teams at the finals after a 9-3 aggregate victory over Oceania’s representative New Zealand.
Simple right? I’m off to lie down…
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.