CONCACAF back to basics in new qual proposal

US vs. Mexico in World Cup qualifying is not going anywhere after all. At least, that's the case if FIFA approves the proposed format submitted by CONCACAF this week.

FIFA's rejection last month of CONCACAF's plea for additional World Cup berths – which could have resulted in the separation of the US and Mexico in World Cup qualifying entirely – sent the federation back to the drawing board. And what it came up with is more or less a return to the old system.

The new plan calls for the six top-ranked sides in the region, as per FIFA's world rankings for March – the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba – to automatically qualify for the semifinal round, which features three four-team groups.

Those matches would be contested between June and October 2012, with the top two teams advancing to the six-team Hexagonal final round. The three best finishers will automatically qualify for the World Cup (as has been CONCACAF's qualifying procedure for the big dance since 1998), while the fourth-place team would play a two-match playoff with a squad from another region.

In prior years, the US and other top-ranked teams played a home-and-home series with the winner of a two-game play-in series between two lower-ranked teams before reaching the semifinal round. (During qualification for the 2010 World Cup, the Americans defeated Barbados 9-0 on aggregate.)

Without that preliminary round, the proposed tweaked format would reduce the total number of potential games played by the US from 18 to 16.

There were rumors that CONCACAF planned to institute four groups of four teams with the winner of each earning a World Cup bid. Any potential plan was scraped, however, when FIFA kept the number of automatic qualification spots at 3.5.

FIFA's executive committee will vote on CONCACAF's new proposal at its meeting next month.

Noah Davis covers the United States national team for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @noahedavis.


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