CHICAGO. – The U.S. Men’s National Team’s path to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar became clearer on Monday after Concacaf announced a revised qualification format in which the USA will take part an expanded eight-team final round of World Cup Qualifying.
The 14-match “Octagonal” will take place from June 2021 through March 2022, with the top three teams automatically qualifying for Qatar and the fourth-place finisher going into an intercontinental playoff which will be contested during the June 2022 FIFA international window.
“It’s good that we have clarity regarding the format and scheduling, which allows us to chart the course ahead,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “We are looking forward to the challenge that this new World Cup Qualifying format will present. We have a busy 2021 that gives us the opportunity to compete for trophies and also take a big step towards qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
The USMNT was originally scheduled to begin its road to Qatar with the traditional final round “Hexagonal” this September, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of a number of FIFA international windows, throwing a wrench into Concacaf’s plans of sending the top six teams according to the June FIFA Rankings straight into the Hex.
2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying/Nations League/Concacaf Gold Cup Schedule
|October-November 2020||WCQ Round One||6 groups of 5 teams; Group winners advance to Phase Two|
|March 2021||WCQ Round Two||6 group winners drawn against each other in home-and-away playoff; Winners advance to “Octagonal”|
|March 2021||2019-20 Concacaf Nations League Semifinals and Finals||USA vs. Honduras,
Mexico vs. Costa Rica; Winners, losers play each other
|June 2021-March 2022||WCQQ Final Round “Octagonal”||14 matches to be played (7 home, 7 away); Top three teams qualify for 2022 FIFA World Cup|
|July 10-August 1, 2021||2021 Concacaf Gold Cup||–|
|April 2022||2022 FIFA World Cup Draw||–|
|June 2022||WCQ Intercontinental Playoff||Fourth place team faces home- and-away playoff with team from another region|
|June 2022||2022-23 Concacaf Nations League Begins||–|
|November 21-December 18, 2022||2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar||–|
Given the circumstances, the new format is a compromise of sorts. Five of those six countries – Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras — would have been unchanged no matter their results in the March and June international windows. El Salvador, Canada and a few other nations still would have had a chance to make their way into the Hex.
Under the new format, a two-round competition will take place to determine the final three teams to make up the “Octagonal”. The first phase will include the remaining 30 Concacaf nations drawn into six groups of five teams, with each team to play four matches – two home and two away – during the October and November 2020 FIFA international windows. The next six highest ranked nations according to the July FIFA Rankings — El Salvador, Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago – will be place into Groups A-F, respectively, with a draw to determine the remaining make up of each group.
The six group winners will then advance to the second phase home-and-away playoff during the March 2021 FIFA window. The matchups will be as follows: Group A vs. Group F, Group B vs. Group E and Group C vs. Group D. The three winners from those series will then advance to the final round “Octagonal” to begin in June 2021.
From there, the format will be similar to the old “Hexagonal” with the only difference being the amount of matches each team will play — 14 instead of 10 — with seven home and seven away. Matches will be played in the double FIFA match window in June 2021 and continue in the FIFA match windows of September, October, November 2021 and January and March 2022.
The top three teams will automatically qualify for Qatar, with the fourth-place team advancing to the intercontinental playoff in June 2022.
Concacaf also announced updates for the Nations League and Gold Cup:
- The semifinals and finals of the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League will be played during the March 2021 FIFA international window. The USA will face Honduras, while Mexico will take on Costa Rica in the semifinals, with the winners playing for the inaugural Nations League crown and losers for third place at a site or sites to be determined.
- The Confederation also announced that the next iteration of the Nations League will begin in June 2022 and conclude with the 2022/23 Concacaf Nations League Finals in March 2023.
- Additionally, it was announced that the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup will now take place from July 10-August 1, 2021. The USA is among 12 of the 16 participants that have already qualified for the next Goal Cup via the 2019-20 Concacaf Nations League, but due to window cancelations caused by COVID-19, the Confederation announced a change in the qualifying format to fill the remaining four places. While details are still to be finalized , Concacaf indicated the eight teams still alive in the Gold Cup race will take part in a centralized pre-tournament in the United States leading up to the final competition.
Source: U.S. Soccer