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CONCACAF Seeks Change in Qualifying

Soccer | DAILY REPORT

February 08, 2003|Paul McLeod | Times Staff Writer

CONCACAF announced Friday that it intends to change World Cup qualifying to a format that forces the top teams in North and Central America to play up to 20 matches before advancing to the 2006 tournament in Germany.

The plan has to be approved by FIFA, the world governing body. It moves up starting dates and could cut the amount of preparation time between matches.

The United States, which has played in the last four World Cups, would play four more matches than it did in 2002 qualifying and would begin qualifying in February or March 2004, rather than July. Its opponents in the first of three rounds would probably be smaller Caribbean nations. In the past, smaller countries in CONCACAF have played several matches to reach the semifinals, while the U.S. has had byes.

Observers said the new system appears to even the playing field a bit.

"I can't imagine four more games makes it any easier, but I think it makes it fairer for all the countries in our zone," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said.

Ultimately, six teams will emerge into a final round of a home-and-home round-robin series, with the top three advancing to the 32-nation World Cup. The fourth-place team will play a two-leg series against Asia's fifth-place team for another berth.

Got Legs?

Just how spry Argentina's youthful national team will be when it faces the United States today at 9 a.m. at the Orange Bowl in an international friendly remains to be seen. Argentina, which was impressive in defeating Mexico, 1-0, at the Coliseum on Tuesday, will be playing its third match in eight days.

A crowd of about 40,000 is expected, and most of those are expected to be rooting for Argentina, whose roster is filled primarily by players who lack significant national team experience, yet includes five members of the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship team. Besides the win over Mexico, Argentina was victorious in Honduras, 3-1, on a rain-slick field that failed to dampen its ball control and passing.

Players from Major League Soccer dominate the U.S. roster and Arena bristled when reminded of that, saying that the Americans will not be content to sit back and defend for 90 minutes.

"I wouldn't sell our team short in this game," Arena said. "I think it will be a great game."

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Times wire services contributed to this report.

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