CONCACAF overhauls World Cup qualifying format

Ruben Hill
July 11, 2019

Canada has only ever qualified for the World Cup once, in 1986, when it failed to score a goal and exited after three straight losses.

Those elite teams, which had to play an extra round in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, will compete for three places in Qatar in 2022 in one round-robin phase.

In the past, teams competed to make the hexagonal, the final phase of qualifying inside of CONCACAF, but now Federation Internationale de Football Association rankings will determine which teams participate, as the six highest-ranked teams in the confederation will automatically make the round.

Each team in the hex plays 10 qualifiers, which will take place in September, October and November 2020, and in March and September of 2021 - ending 14 months before the 32-nation tournament in Qatar kicks off in November 2022.

The second part of the qualifiers, played across a Group Stage and knockout phase, will involve the Concacaf Member Associations ranked 7-35 according to the FIFA Ranking published after the FIFA window of June 2020. Usually the fourth-place team would play in the FIFA Intercontinental Playoff to qualify, but now that team will first have to win a playoff against a fellow CONCACAF team from the separate tournament.

It will have the effect of insulating the top six teams - per the FIFA Rankings - from having to qualify into the Hexagonal and it will offer an expanded schedule for small teams that were eliminated after as few as two games in the past. The eight group winners will move into a knockout stage.

Following Sunday's conclusion to the Gold Cup, the inaugural Nations League is the next competition on the docket. However, those rankings were last updated in the middle of June rather than after Concacaf's most important tournament. It also will give teams more matches overall. The decision reduces the number of qualifying matches for the United States to 10, instead of 16 to 18.

"The love for the game in this region is growing rapidly and our diverse and dynamic communities want a clear pathway to world-class football. Through our freshly designed formats - across FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Concacaf Nations League and Concacaf Gold Cup - we are staging more competitive worldwide matches than ever-before to help these communities fulfill their potential", said Concacaf president Victor Montagliani in a statement. That means the other countries will play in a separate competition where the victor will still have a shot to make the World Cup. He claimed Wednesday that the integration "will raise standards of play to unprecedented levels".

Qualifying will start in September 2020. The timing and site for the World Cup qualification draw will be announced later this year.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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