Trinidad and Tobago’s bid to progress from the group stage of the Concacaf Men’s Under-20 Championship got an unexpected boost yesterday as the Haitian Football Federation (FHF) announced it has withdrawn from the competition.
Trinidad and Tobago are scheduled to face Haiti in their opening match on 19 June at the Estadio Morazan in San Pedro Sula, Honduras before they face Mexico (21 June) and Suriname (23 June). The top three teams will advance to the quarterfinal stage.
A post on the FHF’s official website stated that the governing body ‘is obliged to decline Haiti’s participation in the Concacaf [qualifying series] for the Men’s U20 World Cup for reasons beyond his control’.
Haiti’s governing body, like Trinidad and Tobago’s, is under the control of a Fifa-appointed normalisation committee. Thus far, Concacaf has not officially acknowledged Haiti’s withdrawal or suggested how it might affect the Under-20 competition, which kicks off in two weeks.
Should Haiti’s decision stand, Concacaf has two likely responses. The first would be to simply forfeit all of the fixtures for the French-speaking islanders. However, that creates a bizarre scenario in which all three Group F teams qualify for the next round.
A group stage competition in which every team advances is unprecedented and might not sit well with nations competing in other groups.
Another option is for Concacaf to allow the next team in line in the qualifying series to take Haiti’s place. This creates another potential issue. First, the invited nation would have barely two weeks to prepare. And, just as important, it would not be straightforward to determine who the replacement team should be.
From the four qualifying groups, Grenada scored the most points (9) of the nations which did not advance to the Concacaf Under-20 Championship. However, Grenada played in a five-nation group. St Vincent and the Grenadines collected six points from a possible nine in their four-team group and were only edged out of a qualifying spot on goal difference by Puerto Rico.
Of course, since Fifa is technically in control of the FHF, the world governing body can simply order Haiti to field a team and make money available to ensure this happens.
Either way, Men’s National Under-20 Team head coach Angus Eve can find his troops either qualifying automatically to the round of 16, facing a hastily put together Grenada or St Vincent and the Grenadines team, or a Haitian team obviously in the throes of significant administrative issues.
Bad news for Haiti. Good news for the junior Soca Warriors.