CONCACAF, the FIFA confederation composed of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, has never been praised for its depth of international teams. The United States and Mexico are two quality sides that can beat any club on a given day and are better than most teams in the world. As farcical as they are, the FIFA World Rankings have had the United States and Mexico in the top 20 for most of the last decade, a spot both are probably deserving of. The problem with CONCACAF though, is who comes after those two? There isn't a ton of strength after the confederation's top two and that is what makes their Sunday announcement that they will ask for a fourth spot for their confederation in the 2014 World Cup somewhat puzzling.
For the last two World Cups, CONCACAF has had three guaranteed spots in the World Cup so three teams would advance from the confederation to play in the world's biggest sporting event no matter what. A fourth team from CONCACAF would also have the chance to qualify for the tournament by winning a two-legged playoff with a team from another confederation. Apparently, that isn't good enough for CONCACAF so they are asking FIFA to get rid of the playoff for their fourth place team and allow that team to get an automatic spot in the World Cup.
Most soccer followers laugh at the notion that CONCACAF has the gall to ask for a fourth spot. Really, can they possibly justify a fourth team from the confederation? In the last two World Cups, three CONCACAF teams not named the United States or Mexico have qualified for the tournament and none have won a single match. The last time a CONCACAF team that wasn't one of the two regional powers won a World Cup match was in 2002, when Costa Rica won a single match.
With CONCACAF's recent failings, why exactly is the confederation asking for a fourth spot? It's simple. The confederation has leverage and they've found a great time to use it. Later this year, FIFA will sit down to elect the president of the governing body. Sepp Blatter, who currently holds the post, will run again and while nobody has announced that he will challenge Blatter, it is expected that there will be an opponent.
As one would imagine, FIFA President is a highly sought after position and people have been known to bend the rules to win the job, assuming that FIFA has any rules to begin with. That said, CONCACAF has no need to delve into any of FIFA's darker depths. They would like something for their confederation in four guaranteed World Cup spots. They also have something to offer with the votes of each of the confederation's member nations in the upcoming FIFA presidential election. If CONCACAF were to ever push for additional World Cup spots, now would be the time to do it because the election is upcoming and without an apparent candidate from the confederation to run for the post, each and every vote the confederation has can be directed to the candidate that works on behalf of the confederation for that extra World Cup spot.
If FIFA were to operate solely for the benefit of the game and fairness, CONCACAF would stand no chance of gaining a fourth World Cup spot. As has been established, outside of the United States and Mexico, the confederation has no one else proven to be successful at the World Cup. The question is how that compares to other confederations.
Europe and South America are far and away the top confederations in the world so the fair comparison for CONCACAF is to Asia and Africa. The United States and Mexico can stack up with whoever Asia and Africa have to offer, but what can the third best teams from CONCACAF, Asia and Africa offer?
We already know that CONCACAF's third and fourth best teams haven't been able to get it done at the World Cup. In 2010, Honduras couldn't manage to win a match and in 2006, neither Costa Rica nor Trinidad and Tobago could get three points from a match.
Asia has had some good success in recent World Cups, showing off depth that CONCACAF doesn't have. In 2010, South Korea, Australia and Japan all won a match in South Africa so whoever you want to call the confederation's third best team fared better than CONCACAF's. In 2006, the South Koreans and Australians were the only Asian nations to pick up World Cup wins so they weren't extraordinarily better than CONCACAF. Even so, each of Asia's three other teams, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran picked up a point, while CONCACAF's two other teams, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, combined for just one point. Edge, Asia.
Africa is the strangest of the confederations because it is almost impossible to nail down who the best, second best or even fifth best team is. There is so much variation in the teams from year to year that it's tough to figure out just how good the depth of the confederation is. In 2010, South Africa, Ghana and the Ivory Coast all won World Cup matches, a tournament played on the African continent. In 2006, the Ivory Coast and Ghana were the only two African teams to win a match at the World Cup, but Angola did draw two matches in the tournament to better CONCACAF's third best team. Edge, Africa.
Recent World Cup performance shows that CONCACAF is not on the same level as Asia or Africa. Currently, Asia gets four guaranteed World Cup spots with their fifth place team going to a playoff, while Africa gets five guaranteed. One could easily argue that Africa's five World Cup spots is ridiculous based on performance and they should be on equal footing with Asia. Even so, it would be tough to argue that CONCACAF deserved as many spots as the Africans. If one wants to argue on behalf of representation based on confederation side, CONCACAF would still be on the short side with just 40 member countries compared to Asia's 46 and Africa's 55.
All the way around, it's tough to argue that CONCACAF deserves a fourth World Cup spot. Their performance surely doesn't merit it. Would Costa Rica have fared any better than Honduras did in the 2010 World Cup? Unlikely, but they would have been there and likely been winless, just like the Catratchos, had CONCACAF had four spots. Member size doesn't justify an extra World Cup spot for the confederation either so the current 3.5 spots seems like a good number to stay at.
If CONCACAF really wanted to push it then switching their half spot from a playoff with a South African country to a playoff with Oceania or Asia would have some merit, but a fourth guaranteed spot seems foolish. That would only be the case if CONCACAF had no chance at getting a fourth spot though. As undeserving as it may be, CONCACAF has an inroads to a fourth World Cup spot by offering up their votes in the upcoming FIFA presidential election so while the confederation may not deserve it, they are smart in making a push for it.