The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team has qualified for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup without kicking a ball owing to the Confederation’s new Nations League format, which was unveiled today.
All six nations from the 2018 World Cup Qualifying Hex series were granted automatic berths for the next Gold Cup alongside a further 10 teams from a one-off Nations League qualifying phase, which runs from September 2018 to March 2019.
The Soca Warriors failed to qualify for the 2017 Gold Cup but made it to the Hex under former head coach Stephen Hart. And that feat means Trinidad and Tobago will start competitive life in the new CONCACAF at the next Gold Cup in mid-2019 and as a “League A” football outfit in the inaugural Nations League, which starts in September 2019.
The other five automatic 2019 Gold Cup qualifiers are Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras and the United States.
CONCACAF’s remaining 34 nations, which include Jamaica, Canada, Haiti, Curaçao, El Salvador and Guyana, will compete in a qualifying series from September 2018 that determines the other Gold Cup participants as well as the members of three tiers of the Nations League.
League A comprises 12 teams while there will be 16 and 12 outfits in League B and C respectively—at present, Guatemala is serving an international suspension from FIFA.
Once the members of League A are decided, all 12 nations—Trinidad and Tobago included—will be divided into four groups of three teams each. The four group winners will advance to the semifinal round to contest the Nations League trophy while the table-proppers will be relegated to League B.
League B comprises four groups with four teams each with the group winners earning automatic promotion to CONCACAF’s top tier while the losers are demoted to League C.
The rationale behind the Nations League is the desire to ensure more meaningful games for the Confederation’s teams as well as to offer increased playing time for minnows who are often eliminated early from the various CONCACAF competitions. However, it also makes Caribbean Cup tournaments redundant and it is uncertain whether the CFU will try to stage its own regional competition for bragging rights between April and August.
The format unveiled today is a slight departure from CONCACAF’s preliminary proposal of eight teams in the top tier with 12 and 15 in the second and the third tiers respectively.
Wired868 understands that CONCACAF initially planned to share its three guaranteed World Cup spots between the League A’s four group winners while the half spot would either go to the League B champions or be contested between them and League A’s fourth-placed team.
However, the Confederation has not confirmed what format will be used to determine its qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and could even revert to the former scenario, including the Hex. The Qatar tournament will be the last World Cup involving 32 teams as FIFA voted to expand the 2026 competition to 48 nations.
Trinidad and Tobago’s last competitive match was on 10 October, 2017 when the Warriors stunned USA 2-1 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. And, when they do return to the playing field at the 2019 Gold Cup, coach Dennis Lawrence’s men will have gone 20 months without a competition match.
Since last October, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) arranged two home matches against Grenada and Guyana—both were drawn—while the Warriors are in action again this month when they play away to Guadeloupe and Martinique.