Canada will learn its 2022 World Cup qualifying path next Wednesday in CONCACAF's preliminary draw.
The five highest-ranked teams in the region — Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras — have been given a bye to the final round of qualifying. The draw in Zurich will divide Canada and 29 other teams into six groups for the first round.
The first round is a single round-robin format with each team playing four matches — two home and two away. El Salvador, Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago will serve as seeds in groups A to F respectively.
The six group winners will then face off in the second round — a home-and-away elimination format in three predetermined pairings. The winner of Canada's group will face the top team in Haiti's pool, for example.
The three second-round winners join the five highest-ranked teams in the final round, which will feature a home-and-away round-robin format.
The final round will start in the June 2021 FIFA window and continue in match windows of September, October, November 2021 and January and March 2022.
The top three teams will qualify directly to the 2022 World Cup. The fourth-placed country will qualify for the FIFA intercontinental playoff scheduled for June 2022.
The pots for the first-round CONCACAF draw will be as follows:
Pot 1 (Teams ranked 6-11): El Salvador, Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago.
Pot 2 (Teams ranked 12-17): Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, St Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic.
Pot 3 (Teams ranked 18-23): Grenada, Barbados, Guyana, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Bermuda, Belize.
Pot 4 (Teams ranked 24-29): St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Montserrat, Dominica, Cayman Islands.
Pot 5 (Teams ranked 30-35): Bahamas, Aruba, Turks and Caicos Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla.
This is the third incarnation of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Under the previous plan, the top six in the region would have advanced to the final round, the so-called Hex. Canada, as No. 7, had been chasing No. 6 El Salvador in a bid to overtake it and skip the opening rounds.
That was revamped after the pandemic forced the cancellation of several international windows.
CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a former president of the Canadian Soccer Association, said the top five are being given the bye to the final because they could not be caught by other countries.
The initial plan used CONCACAF rankings instead of those from FIFA.
CONCACAF covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2020.
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