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Not so fast: Antigua and Barbuda FA appeals CFU ruling on 2017 Caribbean Cup qualifying

Haiti's Grenadiers(and Derrick Etienne) aren't quite as assured of a place in January's CFU Gold Cup playoff tournament as previously thought.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Reporting for Antigua's Daily Observer, Neto Baptiste memorably describes the Caribbean Football Union's uncertainty regarding the outcome of the latest round of Caribbean Cup qualifying as the institution's "Steve Harvey moment".

Baptiste notes that for a few hours after the last round of 2017 Caribbean Cup qualifiers, the CFU identified Antigua and Barbuda, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago as the three teams that would contest the playoff round that will allow one of those sides to challenge for a berth at the 2017 Gold Cup.

And then the CFU changed its mind, and the news went out that Haiti would take the playoff spot previously occupied by Antigua and Barbuda.

wikipedia.org

Absent from these deliberations are any widely-circulated, easily-available rules of the tournament in question. The last round of Caribbean Cup qualifiers saw 12 teams divided into four groups of three. The winner of each group advanced to the 2017 Caribbean Cup finals, which will be contested next summer, and also qualified for the 2017 Gold Cup.

Three of the four second-placed teams from the groups were to be advanced to a playoff round. They will play each other once, and the winner of that - in effect - group stage will advance to a playoff against the fifth-placed team emerging from the 2017 Copa Centroamericana.

The problem the CFU has created for itself is that it would appear to have forgotten to include in its rules any clear mechanism for breaking ties between the second-placed teams in the last group stage.

The Haitian Federation was forthcoming with both the relevant section of the CFU's rule book and its own interpretation.

You see the problem?

There are two tiebreaking mechanisms described, and neither specifies ranking the second-placed teams from the groups.

The first set of tiebreakers, which Haiti's Federation is arguing sees Les Grenadiers qualify for the Gold Cup playoff round, speaks to the ranking of teams in each group. In other words, it appears to be intended to break ties within a specific three-team group, which is why the second-order tiebreakers describe head-to-head criteria.

There are no head-to-head criteria to apply to the second-placed teams from the group stage: they weren't in the same groups.

Antigua and Barbuda's case rests on the second set of tiebreakers, which describe the ranking of Group Stage winners. The problem with that, of course, is that we are not trying to separate Group Stage winners, we are trying to separate Group Stage runners-up.

The existence of any rules at all for ranking Group Stage winners is a little confusing since the tournament doesn't really need to rank them: there were four groups and each winner advanced to the Caribbean Cup finals. There will need to be some sort of draw for determining the match-ups in those finals, but it has not been made clear how or when that will be done.

The fact that the rules appear to describe a situation the tournament does not need adjudicated suggests these rules were not written for this particular competition. That is an appalling oversight on the part of the CFU and CONCACAF, but would at least explain why this confusion exists at all.

Whatever the reason, there is no clear answer as to which team - Haiti or Antigua and Barbuda - should be in the CFU's Gold Cup playoff round. The teams finished level on points and goal difference. Haiti scored more goals overall, so perhaps Les Grenadiers advances under rules clearly intended to separate teams playing in the same group. The Benna Boys got their win in regulation time, which would advance them under rules clearly intended for a scenario the current edition of Caribbean Cup does not actually require: ranking Group Stage winners.

Confused?

You are not alone. General Secretary of the CFU, Neil Cochrane, has recused himself and his organization from the decision, asking CONCACAF to rule on the matter. As he told the Antigua Observer:

I am going to ask my head of competitions to ask the head of competitions for CONCACAF to make a ruling on that and then we just go from there because I would not want to, based upon where I am from, I am not going to make such a decision, I will make that decision come from the head of competition from CONCACAF.

Cochrane is Antiguan, so he is correctly avoiding a perceived conflict of interest. But the rules of the CFU's showpiece tournament simply should never have been allowed to be a matter of interpretation.

The Observer reports CONCACAF's deliberations should take "up to a week". The Observer's report was filed on November 15, so it shouldn't be too long now before a ruling is announced.

Until then, the New York Red Bulls' newly-minted Haiti international, Derrick Etienne, will have to keep his plans for January (when the CFU Gold Cup playoff will be held) on hold.