FIFA have just announced a new strategy to develop women’s football. This is a clear step up from their current strategy, which largely consists of Sepp Blatter’s recommendation to wear tighter shorts.
Of course, we here at GoobNet are always willing to help FIFA fix their own mistakes. We will concentrate on women’s international football, in particular creating more opportunities for all women’s international teams to play competitive matches. This week, we will start with the Women’s World Cup qualifiers, and in future weeks, we will proceed to other international tournaments.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers are nearing completion. The process has been interesting and exciting. However, that interestingness and excitingness has in some cases been produced through artificial means, most notably the decisions that most confederations have made to use their championship tournaments to decide their Women’s World Cup representatives.
This is a bad idea, not just because that is not how the Men’s World Cup qualifiers work. It is also a bad idea because teams’ fates are being decided over a period of only two or three weeks. Teams that suffer injuries during that time, such as Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez, are shit out of luck.
It is also a bad idea because most teams’ fates are being decided away from home. An enormous advantage is given to the team that is selected to host the tournament; for example, Chile hosted this year’s Women’s Copa América and finished second, thereby qualifying for their first Women’s World Cup. Playing in home and away format ensures that every team plays 50% of their matches at home, so that their own fans actually get to see them. This should help the teams’ exposure in their home nations, and possibly even encourage girls’ participation in youth football.
It is also a bad idea because deciding a champion of the confederation and deciding participants in the Women’s World Cup should be separate concerns. If they are not, the confederation must make several difficult decisions. For instance, Canada hosted the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and so CONCACAF decided to exclude them from the 2014 CONCACAF Women’s Championship. Conversely, when China PR hosted the 2007 Women’s World Cup, the AFC permitted them to take part in the 2006 Women’s Asian Cup, leading to a bizarre situation in which the third place match would or would not decide a place at the Women’s World Cup depending upon whether China PR reached the final match.
Luckily, we here at GoobNet have an organisation that is perfectly suited to fixing everyone else’s bad ideas: the GoobNet Special Projects Enhancement and Enforcement Division [SPEED]. They have come up with a way to improve the Women’s World Cup qualifiers based on these guiding principles.
We will assume that the places at the 2023 Women’s World Cup will be allocated the same as for the 2015 and 2019 editions:
Not all of FIFA’s 211 member nations enter the Women’s World Cup qualifiers. Our plan will assume that each confederation will enter at least as many teams to the 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifiers as for 2019, but we will also make sure to accommodate growth in the list of entrants.
For 2018-9, the women’s international match calendar includes fourteen match dates per year:
We will assume that the calendar for 2020-2023 will be similar. Therefore, per guiding principles 2 and 3, the qualifiers for the 2023 Women’s World Cup should start with the AUG-SEP 2021 international dates, giving us a total of twenty dates to work with.
Union of European Football Associations
Total FIFA member nations: 55
Teams entered to 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers: 47 [including host France]
Current format: For 2015 and 2019, UEFA used similar formats with a preliminary round to weed out some of the lowest ranked teams. Higher ranked teams received a bye into the group phase, where teams played in seven groups. The group winners qualified, and the last place was awarded to the winner of two rounds of playoffs involving the top four of the second placed teams.
Proposed format: To meet guiding principles 1-3, we will expand the group phase so that each group contains up to eight teams. With seven groups, this accommodates up to 56 teams, so this covers the possibility of the entire UEFA membership entering the qualifiers, and it removes the need for a preliminary round.
Proposed match dates required: 18 [14 group phase, 4 playoffs]
Proposed schedule: The group phase begins in AUG-SEP 2021, the first international dates after Women’s Euro 2021. It concludes in AUG-SEP 2022. This covers a total of 16 international dates, leaving two match dates available for friendlies. The playoffs are held in OCT and NOV 2022, consistent with the current approach.
Asian Football Confederation
Total FIFA member nations: 46
Teams entered to 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers: 22
Current format: The Women’s Asian Cup is used as Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Proposed format: The AFC has an alarmingly low Women’s World Cup participation rate: less than half of its membership entered the 2019 qualifiers. This is shocking considering that AFC teams have been successful at the Women’s World Cup: they have reached the final three times, and Japan won the 2011 tournament. If we can increase the participation rate to more than 24 AFC teams, we will begin with a preliminary round of home and away elimination serieses involving the lowest ranked entrants, which will narrow the field to 24. These 24 teams take part in a semifinal round with six groups of four teams each [if there are less than 24 entrants, some of the groups will contain three teams]. The top two teams in each group advance to the final round, played in two groups of six teams each. The top two teams in each group qualify, and the winner of a playoff between the third placed teams also qualifies.
Proposed match dates required: 20 [2 preliminary round, 6 semifinal round, 10 final round, 2 playoff]
Proposed schedule: The preliminary round is played in AUG-SEP 2021, and the first group phase runs from OCT 2021-JAN 2022. The final round runs FEB-OCT 2022, with the playoff in NOV 2022.
Confederation of North/Central American and Caribbean Association Football
Total FIFA member nations: 35
Teams entered to 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers: 27
Current format: The CONCACAF Women’s Championship is used as Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Proposed format: We will begin with two preliminary knockout rounds, reducing the field to twelve. These teams take part in the final round, containing two groups of six teams each. The winners of each group qualify. Then, the second placed teams play off; the winner qualifies, and the loser has another chance via the CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff.
Proposed match dates required: 18 [4 preliminary rounds, 10 final round, 2 playoff, 2 CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff]
Proposed schedule: The preliminary rounds are played in OCT-NOV 2021. The final round begins in JAN 2022 and wraps up in AUG-SEP 2022. The CONCACAF playoff is held in OCT 2022, and the CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff follows in NOV 2022.
Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol
Total FIFA member nations: 10
Teams entered to 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers: 10
Current format: The Women’s Copa América is used as Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Proposed format: Everyone loves the CONMEBOL Men’s World Cup qualifying format, in which all ten nations play in one group. But why should the men have all the fun? We will do the same thing with the women, with the top two finishers qualifying and the third place team playing off against the loser of the CONCACAF playoff.
Proposed match dates required: 20 [18 group phase, 2 CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff]
Proposed schedule: This format fits nicely into our allocated schedule. We kick off the qualifying tournament in AUG-SEP 2021, and it wraps up in OCT 2022. The CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff, as mentioned, is played in NOV 2022.
Confédération Africaine de Football
Total FIFA member nations: 54
Teams entered to 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers: 23
Current format: The Women’s African Nations Cup is used as Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Proposed format: CAF teams normally play one match per international week, because airline service is not as frequent in Africa as in many other parts of the world; it is difficult for teams to fly between two potentially far flung match venues with only two or three days in between. Accordingly, we will try to cut down our required match dates. We will begin with at least one knockout preliminary round. If more than 24 teams enter, we will add a second preliminary round, and if more than 48 enter, we will add a third. The preliminary rounds are played on a regional basis as much as possible. The twelve teams that make it through the preliminary rounds advance to the group phase, with three groups of four teams each. The winners of each group qualify.
Proposed match dates required: Up to 12 [up to 6 preliminary rounds, 6 group phase]
Proposed schedule: The first legs of the preliminary round are played in NOV 2021, and the second legs in JAN 2022. If a second preliminary round is required, the first legs are in AUG-SEP 2021, and the second legs in OCT 2021. Should there be a need for three preliminary rounds, both legs of the first round are played in AUG-SEP 2021, and both legs of the second round are played in OCT 2021. If travel constraints prove too difficult, teams in these rounds may choose to play their ties as a single match by mutual consent. The group phase is played FEB-NOV 2022, with one matchday per international date.
Oceania Football Confederation
Total FIFA member nations: 11
Teams entered to 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifiers: 11
Current format: The OFC Women’s Nations Cup is used as Women’s World Cup qualifiers.
Proposed format: We will begin with a group phase involving all eleven teams, in one group of three teams and two groups of four. The top two teams in each group advance to the final round, played as a single group of six teams. The team that tops the group qualifies.
Proposed match dates required: 16 [6 first group phase, 10 final round]
Proposed schedule: The first group phase is played AUG-NOV 2021. The final round is played in the 2022 international dates, leaving four of the 14 dates available for friendlies.
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