The news at the beginning of the week was that CONCACAF officials would lobby FIFA for a fourth direct qualifying place into the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The argument that the officials made was that CONCACAF deserved an extra place on the basis of their performance in international competition (i.e. World Cup finals). But do CONCACAF deserve four direct berths to the World Cup based on prior performance? I decided to look into the numbers to find out.
The data show that the World Cup remains one dominated by the teams from UEFA and CONMEBOL. Having the World Cup finals in Asia went a long way toward equalizing the performances by teams from the various confederations, and that is reflected in the higher point averages for the confederations outside of Europe and South America. The European World Cup was a huge advantage for the Big Two and demonstrated just how difficult it is for teams outside of those two regions to play well in European conditions. Last year's World Cup was somewhat between the Asian and European World Cups in that it was played in the Southern Hemisphere but within the European time zones. The performance of the teams outside Europe and South America recovered after 2006 and approached the level of performance for Japan/Korea 2002. CONCACAF was guaranteed a place in the quarterfinal round in 2002, which made their point average look better than it really was. (The USA-Mexico round of 16 match was the only time two teams from the same minor confederation met in the knockout round of the last three World Cups.) Conversely for Asia, despite Japan advancing to the second round, and South Korea advancing to the semifinals, Asia's point average was on par with Africa's. It was simply not a good tournament for Asian teams unless they were the hosts.
So what does this mean for CONCACAF? Their point average took a big hit in Germany 2006, like all of the other minor confederations, but they returned to the pack in 2010. Putting aside the 2002 finals, which were an anomaly for the North American region, there really isn't much of a difference between CONCACAF and the other confederations to justify an extra bid. As a matter of fact, if there is one confederation that deserves an extra direct slot on the basis of performance, it is CONMEBOL.
Of course, all of this analysis really doesn't matter in the end, because re-allocation of qualifying slots in FIFA has much more to do with politics than on-field performance. And that is why in my opinion Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer will focus more on CONCACAF actions off the football field in any presentations before the FIFA ExCo.