We’re about a year and a half away from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which is slated to begin on November 21 and not its usual June slot. At least three CONCACAF will represent the north, central, and Caribbean region in the big tournament — with a fourth team being a possibility (if they win a two-leg playoff with a separate region (e.g. AFC, OFC, and CONMEBOL).
The odds certainly aren’t in favor of a CONCACAF team hoisting the World Cup trophy, according to the online sportsbooks listed on sportsbettingsites.com. The USA currently has the best chances at winning with a steep +8000 line.
But hey, crazier things have happened — especially after all that’s transpired globally since 2020. Once you’re in the World Cup group stage, anything can happen. With that in mind, here’s how the CONCACAF chase to the Cup is currently shaking out.
Five Teams Are In Driver’s Seat To Qualify
CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying stage is a three-round affair. However, countries don’t need to survive each. In fact, some teams only have to get past one round.
That’s because CONCACAF gives five teams an automatic bye into the final, decisive third round. This is given to the five teams from the region who are highest in the FIFA World Rankings come July 2020.
That list includes Mexico (No. 11 ranking at the time), United States (22) Costa Rica (46), Jamaica (48), and Honduras (62). The third round doesn’t start until September of this year so these teams are sitting pretty at the moment.
Per usual, Mexico and the USA are heavy favorites to run through the table, but they’re not shoe-ins by any means. Who remembers Mexico needing a miracle in the 2014 qualifiers just to get a fourth spot and earn a play-in game? Or who can forget the USA failing to qualify in 2018? Like we said at the start, anything can and will happen in football.
For what it’s worth, the USA and Mexico will meet once in the third round, which has been mildly seeded already. The two rival countries will do battle in the third-to-last weekend of games come March 2021. Per usual, it should be an all-our war inside the pitch.
Nicaragua Fighting For Their Lives
Nicaragua’s own team, however, can’t play on cruise control. They are one of 30 teams duking it out in the first round. This stage is broken up into six groups of five clubs a piece. Only the six group winners will advance to the second round.
The groups are played in single round-robin style. Nicaragua drew Group E, where it’s currently in a three-way tie for first alongside Belize and Haiti. Each country has won one game, thus taken home three points in the leaderboard. Rounding out the group is also Saint Lucia and Turks & Caicos Islands (who Nicaragua beat 7-0).
The ongoing pandemic has delayed the playing process. Nonetheless, the stage is expected to wrap up by June 2021.
If Nicaragua is to advance, they would have a date with the Group B winner in the second round. That opponent would most likely be Canada, which has won both their group games by a whopping score of 16-0. The two group winners would play a home-and-away series to determine a third round spot.
All Eyes On CONCACAF In 2026
For the first time since 1986, the World Cup will be played in a CONCACAF region come 2026. As you’ve probably heard, the hosting duties will be shared by Canada, Mexico, and the United States — who earn automatic bids into the tourney.
For teams like Nicaragua, that opens the door to possibly become World Cup entrants for the first time in history. Not only to avoid playing powerhouse teams in the qualifiers, but also because the tournament will expand to 48 teams instead of 32. FIFA has kept details mum on which regions get which of the new 16 spots, but surely, CONCACAF will be on the receiving end of a few extra.
While Nicaragua’s World Cup hopes in 2022 appear dim, it could be a set-up for a historic 2026 run.
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