Canada will have to start from the beginning of CONCACAF’s revamped World Cup qualifying format to get to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
That means the Canadian men will have to play 20 matches to reach their destination.
Under CONCACAF’s new blueprint, only the five highest-ranked teams in the region, based on based on the July 16 FIFA rankings, will go straight to the final round. Those are Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras.
The remaining 30 countries in North and Central America and the Caribbean will be drawn into six groups of five with the six highest-ranked teams — El Salvador, Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago — to serve as seeds in groups A through F.
Each team will play every other team in their group once, playing a total of four matches — two home and two away. These games will be played in the October and November FIFA match windows.
The six group winners will advance to the second-round whose schedule will be Group A winner versus Group F winner, Group B winner versus Group E winner and Group C winner versus Group D winner.
The teams will play a home-and-away series in the FIFA match window of March 2021. The three winners progress to the final round, joining the top five countries.
The final eight teams will play each other home and away, with each side playing 14 matches. The final round will start in the June 2021 FIFA window and continue in match windows of September, October, November 2021 and January and March 2022.
Top 3 teams qualify directly
The top three teams will qualify directly to the 2022 World Cup. The fourth-placed country will qualify for the FIFA intercontinental playoff scheduled for June 2022.
“Given the suspension of the March, June and September FIFA match windows, and with so many of our member associations unable to complete a full FIFA rankings cycle, the previous CONCACAF qualifiers were compromised, and a new approach was required,” CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani said in a statement Monday.
“All teams now have the chance to compete for direct access to Qatar 2022 and dream of playing at a World Cup, while we have also respected the positions of those nations which had already mathematically qualified for the final round under the previous system,” he added.
The CONCACAF release does not address the COVID-19 situation from border issues and travel restrictions to the issue of spectators.
The draw for all rounds of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers will take place in mid-August.
The original CONCACAF plan was to have the top six teams in the region advance to the so-called Hex round of qualifying, with the three top teams after group play booking their tickets to the 2022 World Cup.
Teams ranked seventh through No. 35 would compete in their own qualifying round with the last team standing facing the fourth-placed Hex team to see who advances to an intercontinental playoff, with the winner advancing to the World Cup.
Canada coach John Herdman was not immediately available for comment.
Canada currently ranks 73rd in the world and seventh in CONCACAF. It had been chasing El Salvador, No. 69 and sixth in the region, in a bid to get into the Hex.
3rd qualifying format
It’s the third CONCACAF qualifying format. The first involved CONCACAF rankings rather than FIFA rankings to determine which teams got a shorter qualifying path.
Under the new format, both Canada and El Salvador drop down with the rest of CONCACAF to see who joins the top five in the final round.
CONCACAF also announced that the first CONCACAF Nations League finals, originally scheduled for June 2020 but suspended due to the global pandemic, will now take place in the June 2021 FIFA match window in a U.S. venue yet to be determined.
The semifinal matchups are Costa Rica versus Mexico and the U.S. versus Honduras. They will be followed by the championship match and a third-placed match.
The 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League will begin in June 2022 and run through March 2023.
CONCACAF also confirmed that the 2021 Gold Cup will start July 10 and finish Aug. 1. The confederation plans a preliminary round in the U.S. the week before the Gold Cup group stages.
The 12 participating teams in the preliminary round will be Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.