'Every country deserves the opportunity to compete', says Montagliani

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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Miami, United States (AFP) — Victor Montagliani, president of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf), believes now is the time for even the smallest of countries to realise their dreams and grab new opportunities with both hands.

Concacaf has implemented a more inclusive international calendar which has seen a new Nations League create chances to reach the biggest tournaments in soccer, rather than playing a raft of meaningless friendlies with no end product.

Success in the Nations League can translate not only into a pathway for the new, 16-team Gold Cup which starts this summer, but will also help inform the rankings when it comes to qualifying for the 2026 Fifa World Cup in Qatar and beyond.

Previously, the smaller member nations in Concacaf have struggled to reach these showpiece events because of a lack of matches and involvement, which in turn has stunted development and the building of crucial infrastructure to help the game grow at all levels.

Yet Montagliani, who was re-elected as president last month and is also a Fifa vice-president, has worked tirelessly to ensure everyone now has the chance of sharing the limelight.

“Part of our job is to inspire hope, and nothing creates hope more than the prospect of countries being able to qualify for major tournaments,” he said.

The Concacaf Nations League Qualifiers were completed at the end of March and saw Haiti finish top of the 34-team table, with the likes of Martinique, Curacao and Bermuda all in the top five along with Canada.

“For countries who are debutants, it's an awakening both for the government and corporate side. They will be like 'wow'. Something like the Gold Cup can spark interest at all levels,” said Montagliani.

“The excitement of the qualifying in the Nations League was very evident — some places went right down to goal difference. Countries who in the past have never had the chance to compete in the Gold Cup became riveted in the action.

“It's a lot easier to get things moving in these countries when you can knock on their doors and have a solid programme. Not only the Gold Cup, but for the next four-year cycle we will be involved in proper matches, which will mean something.

“That is a story to tell for members — not worries about how many games they are going to play and against who.

“When Fifa first announced an expansion of the World Cup to 48 teams there were opinions against it, but this is all about hope and inspiring people. Countries who have never had a chance of qualifying for tournaments in the past now have their opportunity.

“For a team like Panama who made the World Cup in Russia, they have now become a football country. It's amazing what a major tournament like a Gold Cup or World Cup can do.

“This is all part of our thinking.”

The Gold Cup, which begins on June 15, will have games staged in the Caribbean and Central America for the first time.

“It gives us an opportunity to build off the pitch too,” he added.

“There are teams who have played more games in 2018 than they did in the period stretching from 2012 to 2017. It's a rebalancing of economics and competition and [to] give others opportunities. Every country deserves the opportunity to compete.”

When Montagliani took up his post in May 2016, Concacaf was reeling following the corruption scandal which saw former President Jeffrey Webb plead guilty to multiple charges and Fifa leader Sepp Blatter forced from his role at the top of the organisation.

However the Canadian, 53, has implemented widespread changes which have helped the confederation restructure and move forward with confidence.

“I am very pleased. When I took over it was a case of just trying to survive, but after three years of hard work by everyone, we have earned the right to think long term. There is more to do, it doesn't stop. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

“Governance is organic and you always have to work at it. When we fell into trouble, you are always going to have stuff happen. That's life, it's no different to any society. Even in the most democratic countries in the world you are going to have people trying to put one over on people.

“The institutions we have corrected with business practices, and the way we are trying to educate people will go a long way in minimising the risk of the corruption we had in the past.”

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