2022 World Cup Chances for CONCACAF Teams
The FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers for members of the North and Central American and Caribbean Football Association CONCACAF began at the end of March 2021. The tournament will see some of the worlds most minor football teams vying for the chance to qualify for a place in the 2022 tournament.
Since the inauguration of the World Cup in 1930, only eleven CONCACAF teams have ever qualified for the games, and during the last twenty-one tournaments, only five of those teams have qualified more than once. The highest place won by a CONCACAF team is third place in the semi-finals, a position won by the United States of America (USA) in 1930 - only four teams have made it as far as the quarter-finals since that date. So, what predictions can be made about North and Central American and Caribbean teams for 2022?
CONCACAF and the World Cup
As one of FIFA’s six continental governing bodies for association football, CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, is responsible for promoting and managing football across the countries and territories it represents. It also organises national and international competitions and tournaments, including the World Cup qualifiers. Founded in 1961, CONCACAF represents forty-one countries and territories covering North America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Guianas of South America.
Though many of the confederation’s members are relative minnows in the footballing world, it does support some of the world’s bigger fish - Mexico’s men’s national football team are currently placed 11th in the FIFA rankings, and the USA are ranked 20th. Mexico has qualified a total of sixteen times for the World Cup tournament reaching the quarter-finals twice. The team has also won The Gold Cup, CONCACAF’s premier continental football competition, eight times in the last fifteen years. The USA has qualified for the World Cup on ten occasions. It reached the quarter-finals at the 2002 edition of the competition - the women’s team have fared ‘slightly’ better, winning four of the eight editions since the Women’s World Cup was founded in 1991. At a continental level, the USA has won the Gold Cup six times. Indeed, Mexico and the U.S. have won all but one edition of the Gold Cup; the 2000 edition went to Canada - 70th in the current FIFA rankings.
CONCACAF has only ten teams in the top 100 football teams in the world. Other than Mexico, the USA and Canada, Jamaica sits at 45th, Costa Rica at 50th, Honduras at 67th and El Salvador at 69th, Curaçao at 76th, Panama at 78th and Haiti at 83rd. Of those top teams, only Curaçao has yet to grace the World Cup pitches. And, only Mexico, the USA, Costa Rica and Cuba have progressed further than the Group Stage of the tournament - though, for Cuba, its World Cup matches were in the very distant past...1938.
In recent times, Mexico made the Round of 16 in the last seven World Cup tournaments. The USA missed the 2018 tournament in Russia but qualified for the seven previous editions. Costa Rica made the quarter-finals of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup and qualified for the 2018 competition. Honduras made the Group Stage in 2010 and 2014, and Panama qualified for the first time in 2018. No doubt, each will be hoping for the chance to better their World Cup results to date in Qatar in 2022!
2022 World Cup Qualifiers
On March 24th 2021, Round One of the CONCACAF 2022 World Cup qualifiers kicked off. Thirty-four teams will battle it out over the coming year and three tournament rounds for three direct slots at the 2022 event, and a chance for one team to play at the intercontinental playoffs for a final slot.
Of the 34 teams in contention, Round One of the qualifiers tournament began with teams ranked 6 to 34 (based on FIFA rankings) drawn into six groups (A - F). Each group plays a round-robin format of matches (two home and two away) across two international windows - March and June 2021. At the end of the second window, the group winners qualify for Round Two of the tournament. Round Two is a two-legged home and away contest in which the three top teams qualify for the third round of the competition. Round Three sees CONCACAF’s five top five teams (Mexico, USA, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Honduras) join the three winners from Round Two for a round-robin of home and away matches as one single group. The top three teams will take the coveted spots at the 2022 tournament, and the fourth-placed team will take their chances at the intercontinental playoffs in June 2022.
Round One Results
Round One of CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament to date has produced a mixed bag of results. The second stage of Round One will be held between the 2nd and 8th June 2021.
Two times (1970/1982) World Cup qualifier El Salvador finished behind Antigua and Barbuda on goal difference. The Antiguans and Barbudans, who drew 2-2 against Monserrat and won 3-0 against the U.S. Virgin Islands, are ranked fifty-nine places below El Salvador in the FIFA rankings. El Salvador will undoubtedly hope to gain a six-pointer against Antigua and Barbuda when they meet them in June.
Canada, who qualified for the World Cup in 1986, took the top spot in their group after untroubled matches against Bermuda (5-1) and the Cayman Islands (11-0), leaving them on 6 points with a goal difference of +15.
Curaçao sits just above Guatemala in the group standings on goal difference. The 76th ranked team easily took down opponents St Vincent and the Grenadines 5-0 and inched ahead of Cuba 2-1 to take the top spot.
The Dominican Republic is at the top of Group D's standings, with 2018 World Cup qualifier Panama in second place on a goal difference of 7. The Panamanians will be hoping to turn the tables against the Dominicans in June to stand any chance of making the 2022 tournament.
Nicaragua holds the top spot in Group E on goal difference. The Nicaraguans have 3 points, as do Belize in second place and 1974 World Cup qualifiers Hati in third place.
St Kitts and Nevis are top of the standings with 6 points. Trinidad and Tobago, one time World Cup qualifiers in 2006, hold second place.
Round Two will take place shortly after the completion of Round One on the 12th and 15th of June. And, Round Three will be held over the five following international windows between September 2021 and March 2022.
CONCACAF's five top five teams, Mexico, USA, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Honduras, will meet the three winners of the second round of the 2022 qualifiers, which, based on current performance, will likely include Canada. Looking forward to the 2022 tournament, the big hitters such as Mexico and the USA should, on paper, make the grade. The question is, who else looks likely to join them...
Though they have dropped from 9th to 11th in the FIFA ranking in the last year, the Mexican team should qualify for the World Cup in 2022 relatively easily. They are CONCACAF's most successful team - reaching the tournament on sixteen of the 21 editions, the quarter-finals twice, and the Round of 16 for the last seven contests. They were CONCACAF Gold Cup champions in 2019, beating the USA into second place, and have previously won the tournament seven times. Recent form saw the Mexican squad win four out of four of their Nations League matches and five out of seven international friendlies against Guatemala, the Netherlands, South Korea, Japan and Costa Rica. The team's only loss was to Wales 1-0.
The USA did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, the team reached the previous seven World Cup tournaments (to the Round of 16), and their form has generally improved over the last five years. The current squad took 2nd place at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup, though the team has won the cup six times in total, the last time in 2017. They also won three of their previous four Nations League matches, only losing out to Canada 2-0. And, they took six wins out of seven of their last friendly matches, with one draw against Wales. The team's chances of reaching the 2022 World Cup depend on performances against its biggest rivals, Mexico and Costa Rica. Against both rival squads, the USA has improved their score sheet of total wins since the turn of the decade. Against Mexico, they have recorded fourteen wins to nine, and against Costa Rica, the U.S. team lead ten wins to eight. However, after losing out to both Central American teams at the 2018 qualifiers, it remains to be seen if the USA will win its World Cup slot.
The Costa Ricans have qualified for the World Cup five times in the last eight editions, reaching the quarter-finals in 2014 over knock-out stage opponents Uruguay, Italy and England. Honduras has reached the tournament's group stage on three occasions, most recently in 2010 and 2014. And Jamaica has joined the World Cup only once in 1998. While World Cup experience can be crucial in qualifying, recent form will also impact each team's chances. 2019's Gold Cup saw Jamaica reach the semi-finals, Costa Rica the quarter-finals and Honduras only the group stage. At the 2020 Nations League, Jamaica won five out of six high scoring matches, keeping a clean sheet until a 1-1 draw against Guyana. Costa Rica won one and drew three out of four low scoring matches. Honduras won three and drew one out of four. Jamaica was beaten in their recent friendly against the USA, Costa Rica lost to Mexico, and Honduras lost to Greece. Against each other, Jamaica was victorious in their last meeting with Honduras but fell to Costa Rica. Costa Rica and Honduras drew in their previous encounter. The three teams are relatively evenly matched; their chances of qualifying depend on whether they can hold their own against Mexico and the USA, who can inch above their closest rivals, and which teams join them from the initial qualifying rounds.
Canada has only played in the group stage of the World Cup once, in 1986, and has only seen two Gold Cup wins, in 1985 and 2000. But, in the last five years, the Canadian team has improved their standing significantly. They reached the quarter-finals of the 2017 and 2019 Gold Cup. The team has risen from 117th in the FIFA rankings to 70th. The team won three of its last four Nations League matches, including a win against the USA. And, they won their last three international friendlies. The current squad has had a great start to the first stage of the qualifiers. If, during the June window, they stay ahead of Suriname (who are also on 6 points in Group B), they stand a good chance of making it to the Second Round. If they continue to the third round, they could cost one of the leading CONCACAF teams their World Cup slot.
All tournaments can play out to some predictable results. However, they can also be full of surprises. Few would have predicted that Panama would make it to the World Cup in 2018. With perfect records under their belts this tournament, so far, could Suriname, Curaçao, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Pamana or St Kitts and Nevis take up the surprise entry mantle? Only time will tell.
Main image: lev radin/Shutterstock.com
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