CONCACAF chief Montagliani wants entry for all World Cup co-hosts
GENEVA -- With the United States, Canada and Mexico widely expected to bid jointly for the 2026 World Cup, the region's FIFA vice president believes all three should automatically enter the tournament if chosen as co-hosts.
Victor Montagliani told The Associated Press in an interview at FIFA that it should be a decision for continental soccer bodies, like the CONCACAF he leads, how to allocate their quota of World Cup entries.
"I don't think we should be dictating how a confederation allocates their slots from a hosting standpoint. That's up to them,'' Montagliani said.
It is unclear whether FIFA would guarantee direct entry to multiple hosts, though FIFA President Gianni Infantino has encouraged multi-nation bids for an expanded 48-team World Cup from 2026.
European soccer body UEFA has limited direct qualification to two co-hosts for a 24-team European Championship. That decision came in December when a four-nation Scandinavian hosting plan was mooted.
Still, FIFA now has more World Cup places to offer. Each continent's quota from the 16 extra slots could be agreed next Thursday when Infantino meets Montagliani and the five other confederation presidents in Zurich.
UEFA wants three more places for a 16-team qualifying quota, and CONCACAF could move from three guaranteed slots to six, plus a chance to send a seventh team via an inter-continental playoff.
If the U.S., Mexico and Canada were given automatic places in the 2026 lineup -- one taking the quota place FIFA keeps for a single host -- then CONCACAF teams could still be playing for four guaranteed slots, plus the playoff option.
Montagliani suggested UEFA should also be free to reward hosts if it had a three-way bid for a future World Cup.
"You want to give three out of your 16? Those are your slots,'' the Canadian official said, after chairing a FIFA Stakeholders Committee meeting Thursday. It was also attended by U.S. Soccer Federation vice president Carlos Cordeiro and Mexico federation president Decio De Maria.
"We are continuing that dialogue with the three countries and it's going in the right direction,'' Montagliani said of a triple-hosting plan that is not formally agreed. "We'll see where we end up.''
FIFA should confirm 2026 World Cup bid rules at its congress on May 11 in Bahrain, though Montagliani would be "more than happy'' to discuss CONCACAF's position if asked at the FIFA Bureau meeting next Thursday.
Montagliani has held talks with South America's FIFA vice president Alejandro Dominguez about teaming up again after the successful 2016 Copa America Centenario event, with a similar tournament in 2020. The U.S. could again host.
In an era of change for world soccer's biggest tournaments, Montagliani detailed plans for other CONCACAF tournaments:
CONCACAF's biennial tournament is played July 7-26 in the U.S., and could expand from 12 to 16 teams in 2019.
Its future beyond then could swing on longer-term plans for a combined Copa America with CONMEBOL.
"If that is the case and we get that done, then we have to have a serious look -- is it really tenable to have a Gold Cup?'' said Montagliani, whose FIFA stakeholders panel faces tough talks on adding and subtracting dates when clubs must release players on international dates.
"Do we really need it [the Gold Cup]?'' he suggested. "Is it just clogging the calendar for the players?''
Following UEFA's model of a new competition for all members with rewards weighted toward lower-ranked teams, Montagliani says his 41 federations are enthusiastic about the proposal.
"It's a great opportunity,'' the CONCACAF president said of a tiered structure that creates games between closely-matched opponents, and offers a qualifying path to big events.
"It would obviously help the smaller countries for whom it's very difficult to get games,'' he said. "When we in CONCACAF create our own Iceland, our own Wales, we will just be a better confederation for it. Our big boys on the block, Mexico and the U.S., will be better for it as well.''
After six mostly turbulent years, the regional soccer body's annual assembly in Aruba on April 8 has a chance to be peaceful and unremarkable.
"CONCACAF has been quiet for the past nine months and that's a good thing,'' said Montagliani, who was elected in Mexico last May as the body's fourth president since 2011. His three predecessors are all indicted or have made guilty pleas to the U.S Department of Justice.
Brief talk this year of a threatened breakaway by Caribbean members was just "an opinion of a lone wolf,'' he said.
Finances have been stabilized and development grants are being paid by a new administration in Miami.
"There is unity in CONCACAF,'' Montagliani said. "We have delivered on everything we said.''