Guyana is the New St. Vincent
|Over the summer, CONCACAF announced that the basic format of World Cup qualifying for South Africa 2010 would remain the same: 12 team semifinals and a 6 team final group (aka "the hex"). Last week, the details were released and there were a few minor changes in the early rounds.|
In short, just like last time, the top 12 teams have been given byes to the last 24, where they will be drawn against the next 12 teams (13-24th best in the region) to play off for the 12 semifinal spots. The big news is that they used a new method of determining the top 12 teams.
Unfortunately, they've repeated the same problems from last time. More on that later.
Let's take a look at the what was wrong from 2006, one that was brought to my attention by Peter Goldstein of Planet World Cup in his columns. The top 12 teams in 2006 qualifying were the 12 teams from the semifinal round in 2002. St. Vincent received a bye instead of Cuba or Haiti, by all accounts much stronger teams. So when the final 24 teams played off, St. Vincent was virtually assured to advance, while Cuba/Haiti were screwed. Just look at the matchups:
(seeded teams on the left)
Unless Cuba/Haiti were drawn against Barbados or St. Vincent, they were going to lose. But the worst part is how St. Vincent benefited from an incredibly easy 2002 qualifying draw, which enabled them to get to the semifinals twice in a row.
I'll explain further. Through 2002, CONCACAF had each team play preliminary rounds on the basis of location. So you had Central American and Caribbean teams playing amongst their regional rivals (which is how the Gold Cup qualifying is done now). Then they had an "interzone playoff" for the final couple of spots, with Canada coming into the mix there.
For the Caribbean qualifying, teams were placed into 3 brackets with one team advancing to the semifinal round in each. The finals of the three brackets were as follows:
Not exactly balanced, as the two weakest teams were likely St. Vincent and their opponent. Jamaica had been given a bye to the semifinals by virtue of their 1998 World Cup appearance. The three losers here had to play Canada, Guatemala, and Honduras, and they all lost.
So St. Vincent only had to beat the US Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, and Antigua, while Haiti lost against Trinidad and Honduras. Because of that easy draw in 2002, they were then seeded for 2006. St. Vincent is one of the top 15 teams in CONCACAF, but it was wrong to let them benefit unfairly like that.
Unfortunately, this system still remains in place for 2010. What they've done this time though, is to take the teams and seed them based on the FIFA rankings for May 2007. This results in three changes in the 12 seeded teams for 2010: Cuba/Guyana/Haiti are in for El Salvador/St. Kitts/St. Vincent. While it's nice to see Cuba/Haiti finally get their due (and a virtual lock on advancement), Guyana seeded is a disaster way bigger than St. Vincent ever could be.
Everyone knows El Salvador is much, much better than Guyana, who lost to Grenada 8-1 on aggregate in 2006 qualifying. Why are they ranked so highly?
In the past year (this cycle) Guyana has a 8-1-1 record:
Win: St. Lucia (x2), Barbados, Surinam, Netherlands Antilles, Grenada, Antigua, Dominican Republic
Loss: St. Vincent
They also beat Guadeloupe in the Digicel Cup. They have a 4-0-1 record from the 2006 qualifiers until a year ago, so overall they're 12-1-2 since the beatdown from Grenada, clearly better than the other Caribbean minnows. They should be given their population. However, they still haven't done anything to prove that they're better than El Salvador, or St. Vincent.
Top players appear to be Randolph Jerome (North East Stars, TRI) and Nigel Codrington (Cleveland City Stars, USA), both attackers. Codrington was named to the All League 2nd team in the USL-2 and appears to be their current best player.
El Salvador, meanwhile is 4-10-2 this cycle and 2-8-2 before the May rankings were released. Of course, the teams they've played are a lot better than Guyana: Honduras, Panama, Bolivia, Belize, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Haiti, Trinidad, USA, Paraguay. Up through May, they only had wins against Belize and Nicaragua, so I can understand their horrible FIFA rank and their lack of a seed. In a way, this is due to the new FIFA ranking systems which now is less complex and heavily weights things towards the past year (50% vs 22%). But there's no way that El Salvador does any worse than 8-1-1 with Guyana's schedule.
CONCACAF needs a better system (but that's another post).