Former T&T World Cup duo, striker Stern John and defender Brent Sancho, expressed their delight with the news that existing qualifying format with regards to the "Hex" is expected to change for the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar due to the coronavirus pandemic which has greatly affected this year's FIFA international football calendar.
The pair were speaking on Friday at the re-opening of the refurbished St James Police Barracks Training Academy football field which underwent an $800,000 upgrade by Landscaping & Central Contracting Company Limited.
Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 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 from which the top three teams will earn direct tickets to Qatar, while the fourth-place finisher in the "Hex" was set to first contest a playoff with the 29 other Concacaf nations who were to compete for one spot after which that playoff winner was due to compete in an inter-continental playoff against either Asia, South America or Oceania for a World Cup spot.
As it stood, T&T, ranked tenth in Concacaf, along with 28 other nations who are illegible to compete in Concacaf, were due to battle it out for the right to battle the fourth-place team from the "Hex".
However, on Tuesday, Concacaf president Victor Montagliani speaking on One Soccer’s Inside the Game with Gareth Wheeler in Toronto, Canada, confirmed that the upcoming qualifiers 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.
Montagliani noted that those plans have been 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.
A FIFA vice-president as well, 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 will have it’s going to be very hard for me to say what it will be like.
On the expected reformatting of the qualifiers, John and Sancho who were members of the Leo Beenhakker-coached national team at the 2006 FIFA Germany World Cup, expressed the belief that the new format will work in T&T's favour.
Sancho said, "We definitely have gotten a reprieve because as it stood before we were basically out of the World Cup due to the little chance we had. Now obviously with the COVID-19 and the havoc it has played and will continue to play on the FIFA international window, it certainly gives us a chance back into the main phase.
"But for us, we first have to get our house in order, of course, Yes the news that Concacaf and FIFA have to do a reconfiguring of the draw will give us a better chance at qualification to the World Cup, but it will remain a difficult proposition for us.
"This is because we have seen a lot of improvement from not just the normal powers like the USA, and Mexico, but you can look at teams like Panama, El Salvador, Canada and Honduras have all been showing tremendous strides in international football and pulling off some great results over the last two years or so.
"Then we have the Caribbean Football Union nations like Jamaica, and Haiti who have been doing quite well, so I think that even though the format will change I still think it will be a daunting task for us and we have a lot of work to do. But with that being said we may still have been presented with a greater possibility of qualifying than before.
John, T&T's all-time leading goalscorer with 70 goals from 115 international matches, to be joint 15th on the FIFA all-time for players with their national teams, was quick to note that it will present the national team with a greater opportunity.
"Now that' the format is expected to change and the schedule will be pushed back it will a great opportunity for us and we will have a better chance to qualify for whatever the final stage or new "Hex" will look like," said John, who was an assistant coach to former national coach and fellow World Cup team member Dennis Lawrence.
"So it's up to us now as I believe most of the countries are experiencing the same setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic, so we will have to come out and hit the ground running when the all-clear is given for the return to international football and work away to getting back into the top segment of Concacaf football where I think we deserve to be."