ZURICH — Canada learned its new path to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday as FIFA held the draw for the latest CONCACAF qualifying method.
Under the three-round system developed after the COVID-19 pandemic scrubbed a previous qualifying system, Canada will be the top seed in Group B with Suriname, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Aruba.
Canada, ranked 73rd in the world, is well ahead of the next highest team in the group — 141st-ranked Suriname.
Canada is 2-0-1 all time against Bermuda and 1-0 against Suriname. Canada never has played the Cayman Islands or Aruba.
Each team will play every other team in their group once, playing a total of four matches — two home and two away.
"I think the format is interesting. Of course, other than that I can't really say anything," Canadian striker Jonathan David said. "I don't pick and decide what happens, we just have to deal with it and go on."
The first-round games are scheduled to be played in the October and November FIFA match windows, but Canada Soccer says no official dates have been picked.
Border restrictions still are in place in many counties because of COVID-19.
"Canada Soccer continues to prioritize the safety for all of our players and staff throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic," Peter Montopoli, Canada Soccer general secretary, said in a statement. "With the gradual return of domestic football and our players back in action in leagues around the world, we are hopeful that we can soon have our players together again on the pitch for international football once it is safe to do so."
The winners of each of the six groups advance to the second round, which features three home-and-home series in March 2021.
The winner of Canada's group will face the Group E winner. That group's top-seeded team is Haiti. The other teams are Nicaragua, Belize, St. Lucia and Turks and Caicos.
If Canada plays Haiti, it will be a rematch of last year's Gold Cup quarterfinal when Haiti recorded a 3-2 upset.
Haiti is ranked 86th.
The three home-and-home series winners will 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 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.
"It is important that when competing in CONCACAF, at a stage where every game has so much at stake, that we are always at our strongest," Canada coach John Herdman said. "We know this a long campaign consisting of 20 matches to reach Qatar 2022 and there are various stages in this campaign for which we have to plan, but we will be taking it one game at a time with a laser-like focus on reaching the CONCACAF final round."
Canada has qualified for the World Cup just once, in 1986 in Mexico.
"I think we all hope to qualify, for sure," David said. "That's our ambition. That's really our goal for this campaign."
The earlier CONCACAF plan was to have the top six teams in the region advance to the so-called Hex round of qualifying, with the three top teams after group play booking their tickets to the 2022 World Cup.
Teams ranked seventh through No. 35 were to compete in their own qualifying round with the last team standing facing the fourth-placed Hex team to see who advances to an intercontinental playoff, with the winner advancing to the World Cup.
Canada had been chasing El Salvador, No. 69 and sixth in the region, in a bid to get into the Hex.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 19, 2020.
The Canadian Press