CONCACAF announced recently the qualification process for the 2022 World Cup in a move that will benefit teams like Mexico at the cost of the lower ranked teams. CONCACAF announced that there will be no Semifinal group stage, but instead, the final round, called the Hexagonal round (the Hex), will feature the top-six FIFA ranked teams. The top three teams within the Hex will qualify to the World Cup. Meanwhile, the teams ranked 7th to 35th will play a competition in which the winner will face a playoff with the 4th placed finisher of the Hex for the ticket to an inter-confederation playoff. Against who that inter-confederation playoff will be is yet to be determined, but in 2017 it was against the AFC.
With the new changes, Mexico is virtually assured one of the Hexagonal spots, which will reduce Mexico’s World Cup qualifiers by six games, given that El Triunfo will no longer have to play a Semifinal round. Mexico will also skip the potential danger of not qualifying to the Hex, something they came dangerously close of achieving in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers when they only qualified over Jamaica by goal difference after both teams finished with 10 points. Other teams like the United States and Costa Rica are also benefited by this move.
The new qualification format has been received with lots of criticism, most of it valid. While the tenure of Victor Montaglaini has been all about giving more games to the smaller Caribbean nations, this does it in a roundabout way. The criticism with the old format was that a lot of smaller countries were immediately eliminated a year into the World Cup qualifiers and then had to remain out of competition with no official games until the next World Cup cycle. With the new formant, they will remain in competition for that solitary playoff spot. What many have failed to mention is that the true victims of this new format will be the teams ranked from 7th to 13th, who would previously be very much in the running for a spot in the Hex. In this past Gold Cup, two of the semifinalist teams (Jamaica and Haiti) were teams that in the past World Cup qualifiers would be in that place of danger of only being able to play to compete outside the Hex. This is what makes the use of WC rankings as the defending factor for Hex qualification very controversial.
In the end, with Mexico being the highest ranked team in CONCACAF, they are obviously benefited by this move. It would take something really special for Mexico to fall outside the top six, and with the win in the Gold Cup, that looks impossible. Moreover, this should help Mexico open up their FIFA calendar and also leave plenty of time to get ready for the Hex.