T&T's chances of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and beyond have become increasingly harder.
The Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Football Associations (CONCACAF) on Wednesday announced a new format which could be a major bother for T&T and the wider regional nations.
The restructured competition will comprise of two parts, to take place simultaneously during the FIFA-match windows in 2020 and 2021.
The first part of the CONCACAF qualifiers, to be played in a Hexagonal format, will be contested among the top six ranked CONCACAF Member Associations based on the FIFA Ranking published after the FIFA window of June 2020. After home-and-away round-robin play during the FIFA Match windows of September, October and November of 2020, and March and September of 2021, the top three teams will qualify directly to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
The second part of the qualifiers, to be played across a Group Stage and knockout phase, will involve the CONCACAF Member Associations ranked 7-35 according to the FIFA Ranking published after the FIFA window of June 2020. For the group stage, these 29 participating CONCACAF Member Associations will be divided into eight groups (five groups of four teams and three groups of three teams).
After a home-and-away round-robin plays during the FIFA Match windows of September, October and November of 2020, the first-place finishers in each of the eight groups will qualify for the knock out stage.
National coach Dennis Lawrence, in an immediate reaction to the new format yesterday, said the change means they will have to play every game as a final. Lawrence, whose Soca Warriors are ranked 10th in the CONCACAF and 92nd in the world, said, "Based on the facts and the information presented, if you are actually in the top six ranked CONCACAF teams on the Fifa rankings at this moment, you’ll probably be thinking you’re in a favourable position, and all you’ve got to do is protect your status until June 2020."
He noted, "If you aren’t, then it means it will be a lot more difficult in terms of the Road to Qatar 2022, and you’ve got a lot of work to do to try and get into the top six. If not, then you will have to battle it out for a chance to have a go at the fourth spot."
Giant Mexico expectedly leads the CONCACAF region, with the United States in second and Costa Rica and Jamaica securing the third and fourth spots.
The other teams Honduras (5th), El Salvador (6th), Panama (7th), Canada (8th) and Curacao completes the six other positions, but these are set to change when the new rankings that follow the just concluded CONCACAF Gold Cup are released.
Lawrence said, "It is difficult, more than before now for the teams ranked 7-35, and favourable for the top six ranked teams. We just have to see how it plays out. What it means now, and not that it wasn’t important before, it shows how hugely important it is for us to do well in every game that we play between now and June, in the FIFA windows. Every game is like a final now to get into the Hex. If we want to improve on our rankings we have to get results."
The quarterfinals, semifinals and final matches of the knock out phase will be played in a home-and-away direct elimination format, during the FIFA Match windows of March, June and September 2021.
The winner of the knockout phase will face the fourth-place finisher of the Hexagonal group to determine the CONCACAF representative in the FIFA intercontinental playoff. The home-and-away playoff matches between the two CONCACAF representatives will take place during the FIFA Match Window of October 2021.