Explaining CONCACAF’s new World Cup qualification format

Getty Images
2 Comments

So, CONCACAF have changed the way teams will qualify for the 2022 World Cup and in a word it is, complicated.

In short, this system will benefit the big boys.

Did this format really need changing?

The governing body for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean released the new format on Wednesday and there was then plenty of confusion among fans across the region as to what all this means.

With the CONCACAF Nations League kicking off this fall, there are plenty of changes in the region and the main theme throughout all of these alterations is to give more meaningful international games and give extra incentives for smaller nations to not only qualify for big tournaments, but play qualifiers against some of the bigger nations.

Still, when it comes to the new World Cup qualification format, things get clouded a little.

This is where we come in. Here’s an explanation of the changes and what they actually mean.


  • Based on their FIFA rankings after the game window in June 2020, the top six teams in the CONCACAF region will compete in the final round of World Cup qualifying, the Hexagonal.
  • Hex matches will take place across September, October and November of 2020 and March and September of 2021.
  • The top three teams from the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup.
  • In June 2020 the second part of qualifying will begin. CONCACAF teams ranked 7-35 according to their FIFA ranking will take part in a group stage and knockout round.
  • The 29 teams will be divided into five groups of four teams and three groups of three teams, with the games taking place in September, October and November of 2020.
  • The first-place teams in each of the eight groups will qualify for the knockout round.
  • Quarterfinals, semifinals and final matches of the knockout round will be played in home-and-away direct elimination format during March, June and September 2021.
  • Winner of the knockout phase will then play the fourth-place team from the Hex in a home-and-away playoff in October 2021.
  • The winner of the CONCACAF playoff will then play in FIFA’s Intercontinental playoff for a place in the World Cup.

Okay, so you’ve grabbed some aspirin after your lie down. Are you still with us?

This new format is great news for the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica. As for Honduras, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, they know if they finish in fifth and sixth place in the Hex will not have to take part in a huge group stage and knockout round competition.

But the team who finish in fourth now know they aren’t heading straight for FIFA’s Intercontinental playoff for a place in the World Cup.

Adding an extra playoff round to determine who represents CONCACAF in the Intercontinental playoff seems a little bit much but it does give plenty of the smaller nations in the region hope that they can go on a fairytale run in the second part of qualifying, then beat the fourth-place team from the Hex, then an Intercontinental playoff to reach the 2022 World Cup.

Easy, right?

The upcoming Nations League games now have extra significance as wins for the likes of Canada and El Salvador will push them towards the Hex.

Judging on their displays at the Gold Cup this summer, Curacao and Haiti are also two teams who will certainly fancy their chances of making the most of this new long and winding route towards potential World Cup qualification.

This is complex, but overall it gives some chances to the smaller CONCACAF nations as well as keeping the status quo.