Concacaf unveiled a new and simplified structure for up to four of its member nations to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
The redesigned format, announced Wednesday afternoon, features two separate and distinct qualification paths for the 42 nations in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
In a stark departure from the previous qualification procedure, Concacaf’s top six teams will be drawn into a single, round-robin group also known as “The Hex.” The top six teams will be selected based on the FIFA World Rankings in June 2020.
The top three finalists in The Hex will qualify automatically for the World Cup. The fourth place finisher will get a qualification lifeline thanks to the other path Concacaf is instituting.
In an effort to keep qualifiers competitive, countries ranked seventh to forty-second in the June 2020 FIFA World Ranking will be paired into eight groups – A through H.
Groups A through E will feature four teams, while F, G, and H will have three. Like “The Hex,” the eight groups will function as home-and-away round-robins. The eight group winners will eventually be drawn into home-and-away knockout round legs.
The last nation remaining will play “The Hex’s” fourth-place finisher in a home-and-away playoff, with the winner advancing to play a nation from either Asia or Oceania for a place in Qatar.
Concacaf Announces Format for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Confederation Qualifiers
— Concacaf (@Concacaf) July 10, 2019
Concacaf president Victor Montagliani said in 2016 the previous qualification structure was “archaic” and eliminated most Concacaf nations too early. This structure – which will run from September 2020 to September 2021 – will keep most teams in the hunt longer, especially since smaller nations like Suriname and the Cayman Islands are segregated from regional powers like the United States and Mexico.
Nations who have sporadically made qualification runs or fallen just short like Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, and El Salvador are also in an interesting position and may find it more advantageous to avoid a highly-competitive Hex and instead compete in the other pool, which features many national teams with fewer resources.
If the qualification draw was today, Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, and El Salvador would all make The Hex.
Panama, Canada, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago are next-ranked teams and have the best chance of getting into the top-six, depending on the Nations League results in the fall.