By Brian Beard | 31st AUG 2020
All 35 members of CONCACAF will participate in the qualifying competition for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar with the top five nations having a bye until the third round. Top seeds are Mexico followed by the USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras.
The following teams, ranking six to ten are;
The lowest ranked side, at 35, is Anguilla with a FIFA world ranking of 210.
The top three teams will qualify automatically, the nation finishing fourth will enter an inter-continental play off.
Mexico – FIFA ranking 11
With a FIFA ranking of 11 Mexico are rightly considered hot favourites to dominate the qualifiers not to mention they are the current champions having won the trophy in 2019. They are also, historically, the most successful CONCACAF nation of all with 11 confederation titles and three CONCACAF championships. Mexico, along with Brazil, is the only nation to make it out of all group stages in the past seven World Cup finals.
Mexico has a very experienced squad; in goal they have 35 year old Guillermo Ochoa, 109 caps and in front of him there`s Hector Moreno with 104 caps.
In midfield there are two exciting, young prospects who are playing their club football in the Eredivisie; Edson Alvarez aged 22, and Erick Gutierrez, 25, of Ajax and PSV respectively.
Up front the star man and the man who could fire Mexico to Qatar is the man whose goals took Wolves into the Premier League and two Europa League campaigns Raul Jimenez. He is definitely the one to watch with a goal return from midfield of 24 in 81 international appearances.
Mexico should have no trouble in qualifying.
United States of America – FIFA ranking 22
Although ranked just 22nd in the world the USA has an outstanding chance of reaching Qatar 2022. CONCACAF winners in 2017 the national team has been boosted by the burgeoning growth of the MLS which is the main pool for players. But outside North America there are a number of US players who are playing at the highest levels in Europe.
Top of the pile and a player destined for great things is forward Christian Pulisic. Still only 21 he took the Premier League by storm last season and helped fire Chelsea into a Champions` League slot. His goal tally, at international level, isn`t too shabby either, with 14 goals in 34 appearances.
Tim Ream will be playing in the Premier League with newly-promoted Fulham. Sergino Dest plays at Ajax, John Brook at Wolfsburg and midfielder Western McKennie is a Juventus player. He is a goal-scoring, attacking player who has scored six times in his 19 international appearances to date.
I don`t see too many problems for USA in qualifying
Costa Rica –FIFA ranking 46
Cost Rica reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup as recently as 2014 and have the best record in history of any Central American nation. They have won CONCACAF three times and the Copa Americana four times. They are the only national team in Central America to play in five FIFA World Cups and in reaching the quarter-finals in Brazil they topped a group containing THREE former World Champions; Uruguay, Italy and England. They then beat Greece in the Round of 16, in a penalty shoot-out before the agony of a quarter-final shoot-out loss to Netherlands, after a 0-0 draw.
Most of the Costa Rica squad play their football in the MLS though experienced goalkeeper Keylor Navas stars for Paris St Germain and kept goal in the UCL defeat to Bayern Munich.
Bryan Oviedo is a defender with FC Copenhagen but, after Navas, their best known player is Joel Campbell. He currently plays for Leon but was at Arsenal between 2011 and 2018. He managed just three goals for the Gunners but then went on `tour`, so to speak, with eight loan spells before the first of two at his current club, Leon. For his country his goal record isn`t too much to shout about, just 17 in 93 appearances.
I think Costa Rica may be at risk from some of the lower ranked teams in CONCACAF and may struggle to justify their rating as the third best team in the qualifiers.
Jamaica – FIFA ranking 48
I think Jamaica will push Costa Rica all the way for the third slot behind Mexico and the USA. Although they are far more successful in their own Caribbean Cup – six times winners- The Reggae Boys as they are known have a more than respectable record in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. They finished runners-up twice in recent times; to Mexico in 2015 and the USA in 2017. Almost their entire squad is home-based although skipper Andre Blake plays in the MLS for Philadelphia Union.
Amal Knight and Alvas Powell are with Tuscon and Inter Miami respectively. Bobby Decorva-Reid helped Fulham reach the Premier League last season. One player I am particularly looking forward to watching is one I saw many times for Preston, Daniel Johnson. Yet to be capped, he is a game changer, full of skill and ability and just the kind of performer who can win any game for his team.
Last year Jamaica shocked the USA with a 1-0 win in Washington and followed that up with a Gold Cup victory over Honduras that earned a quarter-final with Panama, who they beat 1-0. In the semi-final they suffered a revenge beating by the USA, 3-1. But you have to admire their `bounce-back ability` because, following that reverse, their one and only defeat in 2019, Jamaica scored 20 goals and kept five successive clean sheets.
I am of a mind to suggest that Jamaica could well be the third automatic qualifiers.
Honduras – FIFA ranking 62
Honduras are former CONCACAF winners but that was back in 1981 although they did manage to finish third in the 2001 Copa America. However, coming almost up to date, they did win the Central American Cup in 2017.
Not over endowed with top players Honduras do still have Boavista`s Jorge Benguuhe, where he is on loan from his parent club, Olimpia, for whom he has an outstanding scoring ratio of 32 goals in 65 games. For Honduras he has netted twice in three appearances so will be a goal threat as will Houston Dynamo Alberth Elis who has a scoring ratio of one in four at international level, 10 goals in 42 appearances.
With a favourable wind Honduras might be an outside chance for a play-off.
Outside the five favourites to contest the top four places I had a look at a couple of dark horses that might be worthy of consideration
El Salvador has a squad mostly comprising home-based players with a sprinkling of overseas footballers. Brothers Darwin and Oscar Ceren have the hopes of their nation riding on them. Darwin is a midfielder with Houston Dynamo while Oscar, of Alianza, 28, has netted six goals in his 28 international appearances to date. Thirty year old Pablo Punyas is a midfielder who plays in Iceland with FC Reykjavik but I think most will be expected of 32 year old forward Rodolfo Zelaya who is a natural goal-scorer. Between 2010 and 2018 he netted 112 goals for Alianza FC, in 227 games, and his international record isn`t far behind, 23 goals in 52 caps.
El Salvador has goals in the side and that may be their biggest chance of contesting a play-off berth.
Canada created history when in 2000 they became the only national team outside the giants of the competition, Mexico and the USA, to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The national team will be so fired up to do well in the qualifiers and, potentially, reach only a second World Cup finals, after 1986, ahead of being joint hosts for the 2026 finals.
The Canada squad is almost exclusively MLS based but there are three players who will form the spine of the team that gives them much cause for optimism plus a one to watch who really is ONE TO WATCH..
What a massive boost for Canadian football and the game across North America it was when Alphonso Davies won the UCL with Bayern Munich. With an impressive return of five goals from his 17 international appearances Davies is the first player born since the Millennium to play in the MSL, which he did for Vancouver Whitecaps as a 16 year old. He has been setting records ever since he became the youngest player to score for the Canadian men`s national team when he netted twice in the CONCACAF victory over French Guiana and the youngest ever CONCACAF scorer.
At the back is experienced defender and skipper Scott Arfield who currently plays at Glasgow Rangers. Able support for Davies in the goals department is Cardiff City`s Junior Hoilett who has bags of Premier League experience.
But the player I want to highlight is a 20 year old forward who already has eight caps, Liam Miller.
A Liverpool Academy player since the age of 16 Liam had a loan spell at Kilmarnock, where he played more than 30 games before returning to Anfield this year. Despite numerous attempts by Championship and Bundesliga clubs to lure him away Liam decided to stay at Liverpool. He is the epitomy of a goal-scorer, two footed as well, and a real gem waiting to be polished.
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association.