Concacaf announces new format for 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers

Jamaica forward Shamar Nicholson celebrates after scoring a goal against the United States during the second half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal football match on Wednesday

Jamaica forward Shamar Nicholson celebrates after scoring a goal against the United States during the second half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal football match on Wednesday

The United States and Mexico are nearly certain to go straight to the six-team Hexagonal round of qualifying for Qatar 2022, with CONCACAF announcing new rules for the next World Cup.

The Concacaf Hexagonal, the marathon, iconic six-team round-robin stage that has served as the North American region's final phase of qualifying for decades, will remain in place.

The CONCACAF qualifying format for the 2018 tournament was a five-round affair with teams ranked first through sixth in the confederation given a bye to the penultimate round. 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™.

Mexico are now the top-ranked CONCACAF team by FIFA (No. 18) followed by the United States (30), Costa Rica (39), Jamaica (54), Honduras (61) and El Salvador (69). The country that wins the knockout phase will play against the fourth-placed finisher in the Hexagonal in October 2021 for a spot in the Federation Internationale de Football Association intercontinental playoff.

Unless the Canadian men rise up the rankings, they will have to fight it out in qualifying with the rest of CONCACAF - the teams ranked No. 7 to No. 35 in the region.

The restructured competition will be composed of two parts, which will take place simultaneously during the FIFA-match windows in 2020 and 2021.

The date, location and procedures for the draw which will determine the groups and match schedule for the Hexagonal will be announced later this year. The victor of each three-team group will advance to the March 2020 semifinals.

Under Concacaf's new format, they'll be part of a 29-team competition that'll begin with eight groups played in the fall of 2020 (six Concacaf nations aren't Federation Internationale de Football Association members so are ineligible for the World Cup). The eight group winners will move into a knockout stage. Those 29 teams will be drawn into eight groups, with the winners of those groups advancing to a knockout phase. "Through our freshly designed formats - across FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Concacaf Nations League and Concacaf Gold Cup - we are staging more competitive global matches than ever-before to help these communities fulfill their potential", said Concacaf president Victor Montagliani in a statement.

To keep it simple, the fourth-place team will have to win two playoffs to qualify for the World Cup, basically. It's hard to say if this makes qualifying harder for the USA, because the expectation is for the team to finish in the top three this time around.

Concacaf is going to get straight to the good stuff for 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification.

Qualifying should be moot in 2026 with Canada, as co-host with Mexico and the US, expected to get an automatic berth.

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