CONCACAF wants more World Cup spots
RIO DE JANEIRO -- CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb is walking a bit taller these days.
A confederation often mocked as one of the world's weakest placed three teams in the knockout stages of World Cup for the first time.
Costa Rica reached the quarterfinals for the first time in its history, and was the first CONCACAF side to reach that round since 2002. The 2014 tournament, which concludes with Sunday's final between Germany and Argentina, saw the U.S. reach the round of 16 for the second tournament running, and while Mexico fell agonizingly short of making the quarterfinals with a heartbreaking loss against the Netherlands, it has made it past the group stage six consecutive times.
"We've showed the world the quality of football that's being played in CONCACAF," Webb told ESPN FC via telephone. "We're very, very proud to have three teams out of four advance to the round of 16. It's incredible representation from us, and it speaks well, not only of what's happening in CONCACAF now, but of the future."
Like any executive overseeing a period of success, Webb is attempting to use that momentum to extract a bigger piece of the World Cup pie. He has made no secret of the fact that he thinks CONCACAF should have more qualifying spots.
At present, the top three teams in CONCACAF qualifying are given automatic berths in the World Cup. A fourth gets the chance to qualify via a playoff. It was this mechanism that saw Mexico make it to Brazil, as El Tri defeated Oceania representative New Zealand over two legs.
"I think at a minimum we should have four [automatic] spots," Webb said. "It could even be four and a half. But definitely, at a minimum, I think the confederation deserves to have four spots. Having a discussion in the boardroom is one thing, but when you have the results that we've had, that speaks volumes. I don't need to say anything else."
If it were only that simple. For all of the success CONCACAF had in Brazil, Honduras lost all three matches in a group that was deemed to be among the easier ones at this World Cup. And it's not as if another U.S., Mexico or Costa Rica would be added. Would Panama or Jamaica have fared better than other countries that barely missed out, such as Venezuela, Egypt or Sweden?
Starting in 1998, when the World Cup expanded to 32 teams, CONCACAF's performance in terms of qualifying teams for the knockout stages has seen it fall largely in the middle of the pack, though its sample size is smaller because of fewer qualifying spots.
South America remains supreme, with 76 percent of its entrants reaching the knockout stages. This is followed by UEFA with 57.1 percent and then CONCACAF at 52.9 percent. Africa and Asia lag far behind at 23.1 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
At minimum this would suggest that CONCACAF should hold steady.
As for getting more spots, that will likely be a tough sell.
The allocation of World Cup spots remains a delicate balancing act. On one hand, there is a strong desire to have the best teams on show. On the other, there is an impulse to have sufficient representation from around the world.
Clearly, the best teams are centered in Europe and South America, and combined they took up 19 of the 32 teams present at this World Cup. But looked at in terms of population, Asia has more people than the rest of the world combined, yet had only 4.5 slots.
Maneuvering for World Cup spots is also a zero sum game. CONCACAF's gain will be some other confederation's loss. When asked where the additional spot or spots should come from, Webb declined to get into specifics, though he seemed to hint that Europe might be the one to take the hit.
"There's five other confederations out there, and one doesn't even have one spot, there's only half a spot in Oceania," Webb said.
"Europe of course has 13. If you put that 13 in along with Russia hosting the World Cup in 2018, that's 14 spots. That's almost half of the World Cup coming from one confederation of course. It's really for us to sit down and of course everyone is going to have their different views and different opinions."
FIFA politics will play its part as well. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election, and in a clear case of election year campaigning he has put forth the idea that both Africa and Asia deserve more spots.
The Confederation of African Football has 54 full members with two more having provisional status. Asia has 47, while CONCACAF has only 41. The political calculus is easy to discern, especially with UEFA and its 54 members coming out strongly against Blatter seeking another term.
"I think Blatter is speaking from a representation standpoint, the numbers that [Africa] has within their confederation," Webb said. "I think if you speak from that position, CONCACAF is definitely underrepresented. If you look at it from a footballing standpoint, or if you look at it from the number of confederation members, any way you look at it, CONCACAF has to be in the discussion."
There has been some talk that the World Cup should be expanded. That would certainly allow the various confederations to get more spots, but Webb made it clear that this was something he wouldn't support.
"We'd get more spots, but it's about the quality and the quantity," he said. "The quality and the quantity are exactly tied together. I honestly don't think that by us not being able to make a decision that we should just pass it off and increase [the size] of the World Cup because someone didn't want to make a decision that was in the best interest of the game. I really don't support the plan to increase the World Cup to 40 teams or 48 teams."
As for whether CONCACAF will support Blatter, Webb said that is a decision for another day.
"CONCACAF of course, we haven't made a decision as to CONCACAF's position, or the members' position," he said. "We've not discussed it. We're going to sit down with the membership, whenever that time comes, and the membership will air their views and we'll make a decision.
"For us, I think it's going to be about what's in the best interests of the game going forward."
Let the debate begin.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.