Canada will have to wait until at least March to start its qualifying journey for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
CONCACAF’s already-delayed qualifiers were to start in the FIFA international match windows in October and November. But CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, announced Tuesday that first-round qualifying matches will now kick off next March.
The two governing bodies cited “challenging public health situations” and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The delay affects what is the third incarnation of CONCACAF qualifying for the tournament due to the pandemic.
When play does start, the Canadian men will be the top seed in a first-round group consisting of Suriname, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Aruba.
CONCACAF qualifying, which involves 35 countries over three rounds, will send three teams to the 2022 World Cup with another team advancing to an intercontinental playoff.
CONCACAF’s plan had been to conclude qualifying by March 2022. Tuesday’s announcement did not put an end date to the revised schedule.
Canadian men ranked 73rd
Instead, CONCACAF said it will work with FIFA to finalize a new qualifying schedule, beginning with the first round in March 2021. The 2022 Qatar tournament is slated to run Nov. 21 through Dec. 18.
CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, has also delayed its qualifying schedule, pushing games back from September to October 2020. The goal is to complete the South American qualification in March 2022.
The Canadian men, currently ranked 73rd in the world and seventh in CONCACAF, have not played since Jan. 15 when they lost 1-0 to 39th-ranked Iceland in a friendly in Irvine, Calif.
Once CONCACAF qualifying starts, Canada will play each of the other teams in its first-round group once for a total of four matches — two home and two away.
The winners of each of the six first-round groups advance to the second round, which was to have featured three home-and-home series starting in March 2021. The three home-and-home series winners will then join the region’s top five teams — Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras — in the final round.
The final eight teams will play each other home and away, with each side playing 14 matches.
The Canadian men have qualified for the World Cup just once, in 1986 in Mexico. It is co-hosting the 2026 tournament, which will be expanded to 48 teams from 32, along with the U.S. and Mexico.