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We have reached the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying as the race for Qatar heats up. There are 35 FIFA-affiliated national teams in the North America, Central America, and Caribbean region, but only eight are still standing as the 22nd World Cup draws closer.
Qualifiers will be held between September 2021 and March 2022, with all eight teams due to play each other home and away. This stage of the process, which is formally the third round, was once known as the Hexagonal as it contained six teams rather than eight. CONCACAF decided to add an additional two sides to the final phase this time round.
Odds taken from DraftKings Sportsbook.
Unsurprisingly, Mexico are the favorites to finish top of CONCACAF’s third-round table. They are the most successful national team in the region, having reached 16 World Cups and won the Gold Cup a record 11 times. El Tri will be desperate to end their ‘quinto partido’ curse in 2022: they have lost in the round of 16 in each of the last seven World Cups.
The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but things are looking much brighter three years on. An exciting crop of young talent has emerged, and the United States won the Gold Cup and the CONCACAF Nations League Finals earlier this year.
Costa Rica continues to rely on several aging members of their so-called golden generation, but they believe they still have enough quality to reach a third consecutive World Cup. Canada are on the rise and will fancy their chances of a top-three finish, while Jamaica are one to watch after they recruited heavily from the diaspora.
CONCACAF announced a restructuring of the qualification format in 2019 which was introduced in time for the 2022 edition. The process now involves three rounds, with 35 FIFA-affiliated nations competing for just three guaranteed spots at the World Cup.
The five highest-ranked CONCACAF nations in the FIFA World Rankings are given a bye to the third round – in qualifying for Qatar 2022 that was Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras. The remaining 30 teams enter in the first round, where they are divided into six groups of five. Each side plays the others in their group once, and the team which finishes top of the table advances to the second round.
This stage is much simpler: three two-legged ties between the six group winners are held, and the winners of these match-ups go through to the third round. They are joined there by the five national teams that were given a bye due to their world ranking.
In the third round, the eight remaining teams play each other home and away. The three highest-placed sides qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-place finisher advances to the inter-confederation play-offs.
The three teams which finish highest in the third-round table qualify directly for the 2022 World Cup. The side that finishes fourth enters the inter-confederation playoffs, where they will face a two-legged tie against a side from Asia, South America or Oceania in June next year.
The 2022 edition is the last World Cup that will feature 32 teams. From 2026 onwards, 48 will take part in the quadrennial competition – including a guaranteed six from CONCACAF.
That remains to be seen. The United States reached the semi-finals of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, and also participated in 1934 and 1950 (famously beating England in the latter competition).
A long absence from soccer’s most prestigious tournament then ensued, before the United States qualified for the 1990 edition in Italy. The World Cup was hosted in the country in 1994, and the United States became mainstays until 2014. They missed out on Russia 2018 but will expect to return to the competition next year.
|CONCACAF National Team||Number of World Cups|
|Trinidad and Tobago||1|
Mexico have participated in 16 of the 21 World Cups held between 1930 and 2018. The United States are in second place on the appearance list but are unlikely to ever catch up with their southern neighbors, who have not missed a tournament since 1990.
Two names on the list above might raise a few eyebrows. Cuba took part in the 1938 World Cup and actually beat Romania in the first round, before succumbing to an 8-0 thrashing by Sweden in the quarter-finals. Haiti qualified as CONCACAF’s sole representative in 1974 but lost all three group games to Italy, Poland, and Argentina.
Canada have made strides on the soccer field in recent years and will be desperate for a second appearance at the World Cup. They were beaten in the group phase of 1986 by France, Hungary, and the Soviet Union.
Soccer fans based in the United States can watch the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Paramount+. Matches will be held during the international breaks in September, October, November, January, February, and March.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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