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What will it take for Canada to qualify for its first men’s soccer World Cup since 1986? A look at the road to Qatar

What will it take for Canada to qualify for its first men’s soccer World Cup since 1986? A look at the road to Qatar
Sports
Canada’s men’s national team takes centre stage starting Thursday, as coach John Herdman and his squad begin the CONCACAF final round of World Cup qualifying, eyeing to be one of 32 teams competing in Qatar in late 2022.

A Canadian men’s team has not qualified for a World Cup since 1986.

Here is what you need to know about Canada’s remaining road to Qatar.

What is CONCACAF? The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football is one of FIFA’s six continental bodies for international soccer. It is made up of 35 FIFA-affiliated member associations eligible to participate in the World Cup.

How many CONCACAF teams reach the World Cup? The top three teams after the CONCACAF final qualifying round receive automatic World Cup berths. The fourth-place team will compete in an inter-continental playoff against an opponent from either the Asian Football Confederation, the South American Football Confederation or the Oceania Football Confederation. The playoff is scheduled for June 2022.

Is this the first round of World Cup qualifying in the region? No. The five highest-ranked CONCACAF teams — Mexico, U.S., Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras — at the outset of qualification automatically reached the final round. Teams ranked sixth through 35th had to compete for the remaining three spots in The Octagonal, as the upcoming eight-team final round is colloquially called, in two earlier rounds, which have already been played.

How did Canada get here? This is the first time Canada is competing in the final round of World Cup qualifying since 1997. Canada finished top of its group with 12 points in Round 1 of qualification, beating out Suriname, Bermuda, Aruba and the Cayman Islands. In Round 2, Canada twice beat Haiti, finishing 4-0 on aggregate to reach The Octagonal.

El Salvador and Panama were the other two countries to advance out of the earlier qualification rounds.

When will the final round play out? CONCACAF teams will now play 14 matches, seven at home and seven away, through March 2022 to determine three World Cup teams and the fourth-place squad with a shot at a playoff. Each country will play either two or three matches over the next five international breaks in September, October and November of this year and January-February and March of 2022.

Who’s up first for Canada? Canada will host Honduras at BMO Field on Thursday at 8:05 p.m., before travelling to Nashville, Tenn., for a game against the United States on Sunday at 8 p.m. The team returns to BMO Field next Wednesday to host El Salvador and close out this international break. Kickoff for that game is at 7:30 p.m.

Where does Canada rank among the final round teams? Canada is currently ranked fifth among CONCACAF teams and 59th in the world by FIFA, its highest ranking since February 2010 when it was 57th.

The current FIFA rankings put Canada behind Mexico (9), U.S. (10), Costa Rica (44) and Jamaica (50), but ahead of Honduras (63), El Salvador (64) and Panama (74).

The roster: Herdman’s 23-player squad for the upcoming international break is a mix of young stars — like fullback Alphonso Davies, 20, and forwards Jonathan David, 21, and Tajon Buchanan, 22 — and veterans such as forward Junior Hoilett, 31, midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, 38, and goalkeeper Milan Borjan, 33. Toronto FC’s fullback Richie Laryea and midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Liam Fraser, who is currently on loan with Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer, are also in the squad.

A landmark year so far: Canada’s men’s national team program will play a record 19 international matches in 2021. The team has already played 11 of those 19 matches, going 9-0-2 with six clean sheets and scoring a record 42 goals.

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