With the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup starting on Friday, CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani shares his thoughts on what we can expect to see on the pitch, as well as other footballing items.
How would you analyze the first date of the final hexagonal of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the World Cup Russia 2018?
The six CONCACAF sides are ready for the final qualifying phase, which will offer exciting matches, like an all-Central American matchup between Honduras and Panama to kick off the schedule Friday. The Canaleros’ has grown tremendously in the last two decades, while Honduras is aiming for a third straight trip to the World Cup.
Fans are also anxiously awaiting another fascinating USA-Mexico game. Columbus, Ohio, is well prepared to host one of the biggest international rivalries in football and the game is sold out. They haven’t met since Mexico won the CONCACAF Cup last year. If Friday’s game can match the intensity of that one, we’ll be in for a treat.
Trinidad & Tobago hosting Costa Rica, is another intriguing encounter. Costa Rica made CONCACAF proud by reaching the quarterfinals at Brazil 2014, beating Uruguay and Italy along the way. They have certainly raised the bar for themselves in this qualifying cycle. Trinidad hasn’t been in a World Cup since 2006, so they’ll be eager to take advantage of this opportunity.
Undoubtedly, we will have a chance to see very exciting matches that will serve to highlight our competitiveness.
What’s your opinion about the encounter between the USA and Mexico?
Nobody wants to miss that match. These are two teams with great players and a history of rivalry. We have seen our sport boom in the USA. More and more fans…people of all ages…are anxious to see their national team defeat its biggest foe. This is certainly one of the most significant rivalries in football today.
What are your impressions of Central America’s growth, in particular a team like Panama?
Panama has grown tremendously. We have seen its evolution, how it has become a very competitive team at a regional level as demonstrated by their strong performances at our Gold Cup. The game in the region continues to develop and we are confident that through competitions like the upcoming Copa Centroamericana, which will be hosted by Panama in January 2017, the level of play and competitiveness will continue to rise.
It’s also inspiring to watch Central American member associations, its teams and players work very hard to reach the next level. They are implementing development programs to improve youth football. Panama and Costa Rica are a good examples of the type of talent that is coming up within the region. I believe we’ll see even more from the Panamanians during this qualifying cycle and they will showcase their capacity to the maximum.
What are your thoughts on FIFA’s proposal to increase the number of teams for the 2022 World Cup?
I believe football has no barriers and, therefore, the concept of increasing the number of nations is positive. It could provide teams that haven’t reached the finals previously with the unique opportunity to compete on the biggest stage. It will serve as a significant platform to improve their level of play, while inspiring the growth of football in their home countries.
Costa Rica and its excellent performances at Brazil 2014 World Cup were a big surprise for European powerhouses, and they were deservedly recognized.
The ability to share the field with the world’s football elite will be important for development.
Looking ahead, how have CONCACAF teams evolved from the 2014 World Cup and what would you expect from their participation in Russia 2018?
The member associations and the leagues have showed great progress in bringing football to a more competitive level. We need to continue working on coaching education improvement, providing more and better opportunities to compete and creating rivalries that capture fans’ attention. We have seen the success of our players in competitions against sides from other Confederations. We need to have ongoing growth in order to ensure that our teams can qualify for worldwide competitions and win.
What are your thoughts on the FIFA World Cup 2026 bid?
It is time for the World Cup to come back to our region in 2026. We have three countries -- Canada, Mexico and the U.S. – that could host a World Cup on their own. In terms of a more regional bid, there is an opportunity there as well. I believe there is always a chance to have an event of such magnitude in one country or even in multiple countries.
Our region lives for football and is more than capable of hosting successful international competitions. We need to work to bring the happiness and the passion of the World Cup to our region, and give an example to future generations that everything is possible.