LONDON (AP):World Cup qualifying in North America is set to be overhauled to avoid shutting out the majority of countries in the CONCACAF region so early.CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani has instigated a review of an “archaic” format that leaves only six out of the region’s 35 teams still in with a shot at qualifying for Russia in 2018.Alongside a potential new name to replace the corruption-tainted CONCACAF brand, revamping the qualifying format to be more inclusive has emerged as a key objective for Montagliani after five months in charge of the confederation covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.”Something needs to change because you can’t have 85 percent of your members who are on the outside looking in two years before the World Cup,” Montagliani told The Associated Press. “It doesn’t make sense.”Since qualifying for the 1998 World Cup, CONCACAF has used a system where teams play home and away in early rounds. Once 12 nations are remaining, there are three groups of four, which produces six teams for a final round.The United States, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago are the last teams standing, chasing three of CONCACAF’s automatic qualification places. Starting next month, they play each other twice in a league.”It’s great for those six teams over the next year and a bit, but how about the other ones?” Montagliani said. “It’s hard.”Hard for players to raise their standard and hard for teams to generate revenue to fund soccer development.CLIMBING THE RANKINGS”Caribbean countries have problems climbing the FIFA rankings, just because we are not able to play as many international games as you want to,” John Krishnadath, president of the Suriname soccer federation, told the AP earlier this year, while also highlighting the high cost of travelling to matches.Suriname’s World Cup journey ended in June 2015 immediately after entering in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying. The first seven CONCACAF teams were eliminated back in March 2015. It’s so long ago that Montagliani is the third president CONCACAF has had during qualifying for the 2018 tournament.Former CONCACAF head Jeffrey Webb was first arrested as part of the sprawling American investigation into corruption in May 2015 and his temporary replacement, Alfredo Hawit, was indicted seven months later. Montagliani said CONCACAF competitions and the interests of teams were neglected in an era when the leadership was motivated by corruptly extorting money from the confederation and its commercial backers.Discussing a new configuration, Montagliani said: “Maybe it’s like the Europeans or maybe it’s like the South Americans with a league – or it’s a hybrid of the two.”In Europe, countries are split into nine groups, balanced according to their rankings, and play games from September 2016 to October 2017. The group winners qualify automatically and the eight best runners-up will contest play-offs for the remaining four UEFA spots in Russia.In South America, the 10 CONMEBOL members are in a two-year league that started in October 2015. The top four have guaranteed World Cup places and the fifth-place team has to go through a play-off against a country from Oceania.
It wasn’t the real thing — that begins in Russia later this month — but a deadly serious competition nevertheless that Peru’s prison authorities are calling the first World Cup of prisons.Anticipation of the Andean nation’s first appearance at a World Cup finals in 36 years has reached fever pitch, and for its chronically overcrowded prisons, the shadow prison tournament provided a rare, sweet breath of freedom.“At last I can breathe a little air,” sighed Francis Valero, a tattooed 27-year-old locked up in Lima’s Lurigancho jail for drug trafficking. “We are hoping this will help us get reintegrated into society for good conduct.”Each of the 16 prisons included in the unique competition took the name, and the colors, of a country participating in the finals.A prison warden stand guard as inmates from Peruvian jails take part in a mock World Cup tournament at a prison in Huaral, Peru, on May 15, 2018 © AFP / CRIS BOURONCLEAll the matches observed the national anthems of each participating “national team” and officiating at the matches were a trio of professional referees.The initial phases of the monthlong competition, which involved shackled inmates crisscrossing the country in buses amid high security, was played in dusty exercise areas. The prize for the finalists? Playing in the wide open spaces of the capital’s massive 60,000-capacity Lima Stadium.– High security –Inmates play soccer © AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDESFor security reasons, the stands at the stadium were almost empty. The few family members permitted per player were vastly outnumbered by 200 armed police wearing bullet-proof vests.But that did not stop them from living the moment as if they were fans, and players, in a real World Cup finals.Peru, represented by Lurigancho prison, beat “Russia” — a team from Chimbote prison in northern Peru — on penalty kicks after it ended all square at full time.The champions received a cup, gold medals and sports outfits as prizes.“I feel free for a moment, I know that I will go back very soon. This title, I dedicate it to my family, the sacrifice was worthwhile,” said victorious Lurigancho player Thomas Manuel Aguirre, serving a sentence for aggravated robbery.“The magic of football is that it has what establishes the rules of a community,” said National Penitentiary Institute head Carlos Vasquez told AFP.“In football, just like in a community, we face a team and we have to understand that’s it’s not an enemy but the other side, you have to play by the rules of the game.”– ‘Critical overcrowding’ –Like a real tournament, the tournament was grouped into four “host” prisons in cities in Ancon, Chimbote, Ica and Lima.The semi-finals were played in Lurigancho, which has the dubious reputation of being the most overcrowded of Peru’s 69 prisons. Built to houses 3,500 prisoners, it is home to 9,700 inmates, many of them categorized as “highly dangerous.”“Overcrowding is critical in Peruvian prisons, where there are 187,000 inmates. But you sense it less when there is order,” Vasquez said, after handing out the winners’ medals after the final.“The inmates may have violated the rules, they may have committed a crime, but football unites them along with the nation with the country’s participation in the World Cup.”For inmate Omar Jaramillo Mendez, in jail for aggravated robbery, it was a chance to get a feel for life outside prison walls again.“For us it represents something important, that we, as human beings, reintegrate into society and become better people in the future,” he said.0Shares0000(Visited 2 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000A shadow prison tournament provided a rare, sweet breath of freedom as anticipation of Peru’s first appearance at World Cup finals in 36 years reached fever pitch © AFP / ERNESTO BENAVIDESLIMA, Peru, Jun 2 – It sounds like a punchline: how does a team of prisoners win the World Cup? On penalties!That’s how Peru did it, getting out of jail to beat Russia in a tense final at the giant Lima Stadium last week.