Ahead of Wednesday’s crucial first leg of the Intercontinental Play-off between Mexico and New Zealand, with a place in next year’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil up for grabs, CONCACAF.com spoke to CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb about the importance of the game:
How important is it for CONCACAF that Mexico beats New Zealand and become the fourth team from the Confederation to reach Brazil 2014?
Clearly, as a Confederation, we want the maximum possible representation at the World Cup finals and the qualification process has left a situation where that means we need Mexico to beat New Zealand to secure that fourth place. We already have three great teams heading to Brazil of course and Costa Rica, the United States and Honduras earned their spots through some outstanding performances and results in qualification and they deserve everyone’s congratulations. But having a fourth team, Mexico, getting to Brazil can only benefit CONCACAF and the whole region. So, as CONCACAF President, I will be among the strongest supporters of the Mexico team for these two games.
What does it say to you about the state of the game in CONCACAF that Mexico, considered clear favorites to win the ‘Hex’, ended up in fourth place and were so close to ending up fifth?
I think it shows very clearly that the gap between nations in CONCACAF is closing and the level of competition is now very intense. It was a thrilling finale to the final stage of qualifying from our region with Panama just moments away from claiming that fourth place. Panama, let’s not forget, have never reached a World Cup finals and yet they were so close this time, showing they have really raised the level of their game. It was heartbreaking for them of course but they should take encouragement from some outstanding performances and their rise should offer encouragement to other nations because it shows that development work does bring results.
The dramatic final minutes of the CONCACAF qualification will remain a memorable moment but in the big picture, the level of competition shown is outstanding for the development of the game in our region. I firmly believe that next time around, with countries that didn’t make the ‘hexagonal phase’ improving, we will see a similar battle simply to even make it to the final stage of qualification. You can be sure that the likes of Canada, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Guatemala and others are already focused on how they get into the mix next time. I am sure it is going to be even more exciting.
Mexico’s team has been through a difficult time with the results and the change of coaches. How confident are you that they are capable of beating New Zealand?
I think to some degree Mexico’s National Team have been victims of the success of their domestic league. Liga MX has become a great league and is now the third most attended league in the world. The league has attracted many foreign players from around the globe, which has clearly impacted the development of Mexican players.
But I am convinced that Mexico has the talent to beat New Zealand. The success of the Mexican Under-17 team in reaching the FIFA Under-17 World Cup final was a reminder of the depth of talent in Mexico and when you watch the domestic league on television or see Mexican clubs in the CONCACAF Champions League you can see that there are so many quality players available to the national team coach.
But New Zealand deserve the maximum respect. Don’t forget this was a team that made to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and went home unbeaten. They drew all three games, including against Italy, who were the defending champions. They finished above Italy in the group stage. They have shown over the past few years that they are a very well-organized and resilient team. Mexico will need to be at their best over the two games to get that place. But I believe they can do it.
While this is an exciting pair of games coming up, CONCACAF has argued that the region deserves four automatic places in the World Cup. Is that still the position of the organization and in your opinion how far away are we from making that a reality?
There are two factors that have to be taken into consideration - you have to look at the issue of performance and of proportionality. Are CONCACAF teams performing to a level that merits four places in the World Cup? I think our performances during the past World Cups show the competitiveness of our our leading nations. . Then, there is the question of proportionality and equity vis a vis other regions. Currently we get just three automatic spots out of 32 places in the World Cup but this is an issue that we will return to at the appropriate moment in FIFA. For now, we have a chance of four places in Brazil– we wish Mexico the best of luck. .