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T&T senior men’s football team coach, former England international Terry Fenwick

T&T Soca Warriors are set to be handed a much-improved chance at qualifying for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

This after it was stated that Concacaf’s 2022 World Cup qualifying format to determine which three teams earn direct tickets to Qatar and which one will head to an inter-continental playoff is expected to change due to the impact of the COVID-19.

The expected change in the qualifying process has come out due to the delays caused by the virus which has forced sporting activities worldwide to grind to a halt since mid-March and was stated by Concacaf president, Victor Montagliani while speaking on One Soccer’s Inside the Game with Gareth Wheeler on Tuesday night in Toronto, Canada.

Before the coronavirus outbreak the top six Concacaf teams in the FIFA rankings as of June 2020 (Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador) were expected to enter into the Hexagonal (six-team) final round, featuring a round-robin format with tenth-ranked T&T set to compete with 28 other countries for the lone playoff-spot to compete against the fourth-placed team in the “Hex”.

Among the other teams due to compete for the one spot were seventh-ranked Panama (7th), Canada (8th) and Curacao (9th).

However, FIFA vice-president Montagliani confirmed that the upcoming qualifying for the 2022 World Cup the “Hex” in its current form on the balance of probabilities will change due to delays from COVID-19.

The “Hex” was set to start in early September, with the fourth-place team squaring off with the winner of the 29-team second-tier event in October 2021. The winner of that playoff would then oppose a team from Asia, South America or Oceania in March 2022 for a spot in the World Cup, later that year.

But those plans are complicated by the fact that FIFA cancelled its scheduled international-match windows in March and June, and the September international date might end up being scratched, too, depending on when domestic leagues can restart.

At the moment, it is unclear if Concacaf would have time to hold a full ten-game “Hex” in addition to the subsequent playoffs.

Montagliani said, “We will be reformatting the current one, so we are going to have 35 countries, and until we know from FIFA how many windows we have it’s going to be very hard for me to say what it will be like.

“I think one of the things we have to keep in mind is that whatever the format is we have to keep in mind is sporting integrity.

“Yes, we are going to have to use FIFA rankings to start somewhere because that’s the reality of our confederation, and in terms of having 35 countries, which is a weird number to start with, means we will have to do some sort of elimination process and then eventually get into some group stage process.

“But I don’t’ know that yet until we know what the FIFA calendar is going to look like.”

Asked if the “Hex” as we know it today or yesterday may not exist in the same way at least for this qualifying phase based upon how everything has played out Montagliani replied, “Yeah, I think on the balance of probabilities in terms of what has happened so far and what likely will continue to happen, the current World Cup qualify format will have to change which means automatically that the “Hex” will have to be changed to some other form.

“It will be bigger, but what that number is I don’t know until we have a calendar.

“If we look at the old format, it will not allow us to play all those games in sequence, so going forward with the expected changed format we will have to use the FIFA rankings at some point to put teams somewhere.

“But for me to put teams into the old format of the “Hex” or no “Hex” using a FIFA ranking when nobody has played football for almost nine months, ten months or whatever it will end up being to me, an integrity issue,” said the former Canada football boss who noted that several people asked why the format of going from Nations League to World Cup qualifying could not be used, but he admitted they were not allowed to.

“The TV rights of the World Cup qualifiers are sold by each country to third parties and the Nations League is owned by Concacaf and that’s how we pay for teams expenses during that period as teams don’t pay a dime.

“We could not use our products for World Cup qualifying calendar, and so that’s how we came to that system, and it wasn’t based on helping out anybody.”

Looking towards the near future, a hopeful Montagliani said that Concacaf was now at the table with FIFA and other confederations to decide on what this new calendar will look like moving forward because they have no idea right now.

Newly appointed T&T coach, former England World Cup defender Terry Fenwick was delighted by the expected change.

He told Guardian Media Sports On Wednesday, “I thought FIFA and Concacaf, by extension, were trying to move us in the wrong direction away from what is positive for the Caribbean nations. So I’m pleased that we have run out of time and things will remain as is at the moment and I am waiting to see what comes in the not too distant future,” said the former T&T Pro League-winning coach with San Juan Jabloteh and Central FC.”

He said, “I thought the format which was to be implemented alienated a lot of the Caribbean national teams like T&T and I wasn’t in favour of that change at all as it was, and I much prefer it as it was before. Despite the imminent change, Fenwick said he still expects it to be a tough road ahead in the qualifiers saying: “We have to recognise that we are up against the might of USA, Mexico and emerging teams like Canada who have had a three-to-four year development programme that’s starting to pay off.”