By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
CONCACAF has restructured its qualification process for several events and announced a new calendar for its regional events amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organisation revealed a new format for the CONCACAF Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and updated the way forward for both the Nations League and 2021 Gold Cup.
The Qatar 2022 qualification will feature three rounds vying for three and a half World Cup spots. The First Round (30 teams) will feature CONCACAF teams ranked 6-35 based on the FIFA rankings as of July 16, 2020.
The Bahamas is currently ranked No. 30 based on the aforementioned rankings. The draw will feature six groups of five teams. Each team will play every other team in their group once, playing a total of four matches; two home and two away. These games will be played in the FIFA match windows of October 2020 and November 2020.
At the end of the first round the six group winners will progress to the Second Round. The second round (six teams) will be played between the group winners from the First Round in a home-and-away in a direct elimination format in the FIFA match window of March 2021.
The three winners will progress to the Final Round. The final round (eight teams) of the qualifiers will feature the three winners from round two and teams based 1-5 on the FIFA rankings as of July 16, 2020. The Final Round will begin June 2021 and continue in the FIFA match windows of September, October, November 2021 and January and March 2022.
The top three teams will advance to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the fourth placed team will qualify for the FIFA Intercontinental Playoff, scheduled to be played in June 2022.
The 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup is now tentatively scheduled to commence July 10, 2021 to August 1, 2021.
The CONCACAF “Road to Gold Cup Qualifiers” were originally scheduled to take place March 2020 and June 2020, however, play was suspended due to COVID-19.
The Bahamas will be one of 12 teams to participate in a centralised Gold Cup preliminary round that will take place in the United States a week prior to the Gold Cup group stages.
Other participating teams will include Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Bahamas returned to regional competition last year in the CONCACAF Nations League and emerged as the top group team in League C, Group B.
The Bahamas finished as group winners with 10 points, and earned a berth in both League B and the 2021 Gold Cup qualifiers.
They began the series when they defeated Bonaire 2-1 at the Thomas A Robinson Stadium back in September, the first game of the home-and-away series. The Bahamas topped the British Virgin Islands 4-0 on October 9 at Warner Park in Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis.
The Junkanoo Boyz returned home on November 14 with a 3-0 win over BVI. They closed out the stage with a 1-1 draw against Bonaire at the Ergilio Hato Stadium in Willemstad, Curacao, to solidify the top spot in League C, Group B.
“Many communities across the CONCACAF region continue to face very difficult circumstances due to the current public health situation and my thoughts and prayers go out to them,” said CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani.
“Given the suspension of the March, June and September FIFA match windows, and with so many of our member associations unable to complete a full FIFA rankings cycle, the previous CONCACAF Qualifiers were compromised, and a new approach was required.
“We have some great football to look forward to later this year and in 2021,” added Montagliani. “Our next priorities are to continue progressing plans for the resumption of our club competitions and to ensure we finalise a women’s international calendar for the coming years which supports the continued development of women’s football in our region.”