CONCACAF: Miami (Wednesday, July 10, 2019) – The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) today announced the format for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Confederation Qualifiers. The restructured competition will be composed of two parts, which will take place simultaneously during the FIFA-match windows in 2020 and 2021.
The first part of the Concacaf qualifiers, which will be played in a Hexagonal format, will be contested between the top six ranked Concacaf Member Associations based on the FIFA Ranking published after the FIFA window of June 2020. After home-and-away round robin play during the FIFA Match windows of September, October and November of 2020 and March and September of 2021, the top three teams will qualify directly to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 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. For the group stage, these 29 participating Concacaf Member Associations will be divided into eight groups (five groups of four teams and three groups of three teams). After home-and-away round robin play during the FIFA Match windows of September, October and November of 2020, the first-place finishers in each of the eight group will qualify for the knock out stage.
The USMNT doesn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup and CONCACAF responds by changing up their qualifying process. Hilarious. I love it.
There are three factors that play into this decision.
The first one, and the on that CONCACAF will publicly tout is to give the smaller teams in the region a better chance at qualifying. It also gives them more games.
That of course means more money, the second reason. With the new group stage and knockout rounds there will be more games played. CONCACAF will say more competitive games equals more chances to improve (and that’s true) but it really means more money for everyone.
Then there’s the third reason which will never be mentioned. This was put in place to minimize the chances of the US or Mexico fucking up and not qualifying for the World Cup.
CONACAF has always designed their qualifying tournament to practically ensure that the big boys will walk through to the World Cup (which is what makes the US’s failure in 2018 even more astonishing).
In the past, there were a few knockout rounds, and sometimes even a group stage, before the top teams entered the tournament in the semifinal round (3rd or 4th round). The semifinal round consisted of three groups of four. with the top two teams in each group moving on to the final Hexagonal round.
The Hex is an ultra-forgiving tournament. Six teams play a 10 game round robin with the top three qualifying for the World Cup directly and fourth place going to a playoff. Only two of the six teams are actually eliminated after the Hex.
In 2014 Mexico won just two games and still qualified for the World Cup. In 2018 both Panama and Honduras made it out of the Hex with just three wins.
Despite having some minnows, the four team groups of the semifinal round is far less forgiving. Early losses in both 2014 and 2018 to Jamaica and Guatemala created real scares that the US wouldn’t advance to the Hex. Yes, those fears were WAY overblown but each year the US lost once game and finished just three points above the third place team. In a four team group, the margin for error is extremely slim.
CONCACAF has now done away with that semifinal round, ensuring that nothing funny or no flukes happen and the US and Mexico both go to the Hex. Furthermore, getting rid of three tricky CONCACAF away games prior to the Hex may help keep the US fresher as well.
If the US screws up again that’s on them, but CONCACAF is doing everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.