The inability of the six federations involved in next year’s Hexagonal to come up with a schedule for the year-long final round shouldn’t have come as much of a shock. Programming such a long and delicate series of games in a way that suited all comers was a near impossibility from the beginning.
That’s why FIFA has random draws. Imagine the 32 World Cup participants, for instance, sitting down and trying sort out groups and schedules. This would have looked a little like that.
It might have been a little bit more of a surprise, though, when Honduran Football Federation president Alfredo Hawit and then Mexican National Teams Director Héctor González Iñárritu came out confirming that the main sticking point to an agreement was that no one wanted to face Mexico last.
According to separate sources in two of the federations involved in the discussions -- both of whom wished to remain anonymous for various reasons -- the process and the reasons for which no agreement was reached were several degrees more complicated than a simple aversion to Mexico, though a last match date at Azteca Stadium did come into play.
To begin with, there was apparently some feeling among the federations -- and certainly among observers -- that the nations had the freedom to work out whatever schedule was most convenient for them.
That, however, was never going to be the case. The matchdays and schedule had been fixed by FIFA by the time the representatives arrived in Miami. To work with, delegates were given a schedule set with a year’s worth of fixtures to be played by teams numbered one through six.
The only flexibility the federations would have would be in determining which team would receive each of the positions. That’s where the problems began, and for all intents and purposes negotiations ended.
With no clear criteria to assign the numbers to nations, there was some initial agreement that teams might somehow be seeded by FIFA ranking or by performance in the recent semifinal round.
That general agreement, though, lasted only as long as it took to discover that some positions, predictably, were more desirable than others. One of the positions -- the No. 6, as it were -- will begin the Hex with two dates on the road. Anxious to kick off the campaign strongly, no nation was interested in that slot.
The other major sticking point, as duly noted by Hawit and Gonzalez, was the lack of palatability of playing Mexico on the road to close the Hexagonal -- a date which would have likely corresponded to one of the teams assuming one of the two remaining “lower” seeds (apart from the infamous No. 6).
Given how difficult it’s always been to win a qualifier at El Azteca, it’s little surprise that no one wanted that spot either -- though one source was quick to point out that in general none of the six was overly amenable to closing on the road anywhere.
A final sticking point revolved around Mexico’s pending participation in the Confederations Cup in Brazil. One of the Hexagonal dates falls during the Cup, on June 18th.
Mexico will be at liberty to move that date unilaterally (with CONCACAF approval) -- probably forward to the week of June 7 -- potentially conflicting with a high-profile, high-income mid-summer friendly for at least one other nation involved in the Hexagonal.
Furthermore, under the presumed format the team which would have been scheduled to play Mexico that week -- presumably the fifth matchday of the round -- would have also been the team to visit El Azteca to close the tournament, making that position doubly undesirable to certain teams with the potential to play income-generating summer friendlies at home in early June.
Rather than accept unnecessary assignment of a position and schedule that could be inconvenient in any of those numerous ways, all six federations preferred to send the draw back to FIFA, to be sorted out randomly. The draw will take place on Nov. 7.
That’s the way it’s always been done, and -- for reasons that will have become evident in Miami -- it probably will continue to be.
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