How World Cup Qualification in the CONCACAF Octagonal Works

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The final round of qualification for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, out of CONCACAF, is a little different. What is usually a six-team final round (or a hexagonal) is now an eight-team final round (or octagonal). This change was made mostly due to COVID, and it wreaked havoc on the officially endorsed FIFA international windows.

It is also more condensed than the previous versions of the qualifying format, with all the fixtures taking place between September ‘21 and March ‘22, compared to the 2018 qualification process which took place over eleven months.

For instance, four of the five international windows will feature or have featured three fixtures instead of two, like in previous editions.

The teams featuring in the final group are comprised of the top 5 FIFA-ranked CONCACAF teams as of July 2020 (USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica) and three qualifiers (El Salvador, Canada & Panama). The final group has 3.5 (we’ll explain that “half”) qualifying spots for the final tournament in Qatar at the end of 2022.

In the most basic terms, it means that the top three sides from the “octagonal” will automatically qualify for the World Cup.

The fourth-ranked side will have to contest an intercontinental home and away playoff against a team from either Asia, South America, or Oceania confederations. If the qualifying period was to end now, that would mean Mexico, USA and Canada would all qualify automatically, and Panama would have to play an intercontinental playoff match.

With eight fixtures to go, qualifying is precariously placed. No side is out of the reckoning, but realistically, I’d be surprised if Mexico doesn’t qualify given where there are placed and that it is a long way back for bottom-placed Honduras.

This November international break features a huge fixture between the USMNT and their arch-rivals, first-placed Mexico.

If Mexico can manage to take at least a point home from the TQL Stadium, it would almost certainly secure them auto qualification, but if the USMNT manages to win, it could blow the top tier spots in the Octagonal wide open.

NOVEMBER USMNT WORLD CUP QUALIFICATION FIXTURES

CONCACAF Matches:

USMNT vs Mexico Friday, November 12th, 9 PM, TQL Stadium, Cincinnati

Jamaica vs USMNT Tuesday, November 16th, 5 PM, Independence Park, Kingston, Jamaica

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