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Concacaf World Cup Qualifying Scenarios: How Canada, USMNT, Mexico Can Reach Qatar

As Concacaf’s 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign winds down, it’s the ’26 tournament cohosts who are in the strongest shape to make it to Qatar.

The Concacaf standings have thawed a bit, one World Cup qualifying window remains, and it’s looking very much like the three nations who won’t have to qualify in 2026 will be the ones occupying the region’s automatic berths in Qatar this fall.

Canada, the United States and Mexico remain the top-three teams in the Octagonal table after a unique winter window that featured a bit of everything. There were the much-discussed subzero temperatures in Minnesota on Wednesday night, there was one of the more bizarre goals you'll see scored by a 38-year-old Canadian veteran in El Salvador and there were allegations of COVID-19-positive players featuring for Costa Rica in Jamaica. There was a subpar Mexico side eking its way to three points on a dodgy penalty and there were eliminations of two sides, leaving six still in the mix for places at the World Cup.

Realistically speaking, though, it’s down to five, with El Salvador, at best, able to finish in fourth place, whose prize is an intercontinental playoff against Oceania's champion in Qatar in June.

In practice, it’s down to the 2026 World Cup cohosts, Panama and Costa Rica, with one final window to sort out all the drama. Here are the pathways to Qatar that remain, with qualifying due to wrap up in the final week of March:

Canada, the USA and Mexico are in position to qualify for the 2022 World Cup


Canada is in the luxurious position of being able to clinch with a win in any of its last three games, as it holds a comfortable four-point lead over the U.S. and Mexico and an eight-point edge on Panama. It has already ensured that at worst—and it would take true and utter catastrophe—it’ll finish fourth, but the Canadians are more likely to finish atop the table than just eke their way in.

John Herdman’s side, fresh off a nine-point window impressively achieved without the services of Alphonso Davies, plays at Costa Rica, at home vs. Jamaica and then at Panama to close qualifying. A win in San José or a draw and a Panama draw or loss against Honduras is one way to secure an automatic berth on March 24. A draw and a U.S. loss to Mexico even if Panama wins is another (since the U.S. and Panama play each other, even though both would be within six points with two games to go in that scenario, only one would theoretically be able to leap Canada in the table). It has been 36 years since Canada played in a men’s World Cup, but that wait is surely coming to an end, and deservedly so.


The U.S. ultimately did what it needed to do this window, despite the ignominy of being handled by Canada. Entering the final two blocks of qualifying matches, it was quite clear that as long as the U.S. didn’t stumble at home, its path to Qatar would remain open. That is still the case. Winning a qualifier at Estadio Azteca for the first time—in what could be the last World Cup qualifier ever between the U.S. and Mexico—would surely be preferable and historic and lighten the pressure on the subsequent matches, but it’s probably not necessary as long as it beats Panama in Orlando on March 27.

That said, there is an immediate, express lane to qualification three days before: a win in Mexico, coupled with a Panama loss at home to last-place and winless Honduras and a Costa Rica loss or draw against Canada would put the U.S. seven points clear of fourth with two matches to go and render the last two qualifiers as victory laps.

Should the U.S. lose in Mexico City but beat Panama, that could be all that’s required to ensure it doesn’t come down to the wire. Mexico’s win over Panama on Wednesday night did both El Tri and the U.S. a solid, creating that four-point buffer ahead of fourth place. The only way the U.S. would need more than a home win vs. Panama to secure a top-three berth would be if Costa Rica has a perfect window (vs. Canada, at El Salvador, vs. U.S.) and Mexico takes another point from its last two games. That scenario would leave the U.S. in fourth. The floor, as long as business at home is tended to, is the playoff. If the U.S. doesn’t beat Panama, however, then the wheels could fall off, knowing that a result could be needed in the March 30 finale in Costa Rica, where the U.S. has never won a qualifier. 

As coach Gregg Berhalter said Wednesday night in his postmatch remarks, the blueprint all along—and it’s been like this for decades—is to win at home and try to nick points on the road to get to where you want to be. As long as that is adhered to, the U.S. will be fine.


Mexico has looked all out of sorts and sluggish under Tata Martino—and is sweating out a new injury to Chucky Lozano—but that hasn’t stopped El Tri from reaching its ultimate target destination. Like the U.S., Mexico is on 21 points, four points behind Canada and four clear of Panama. It trails the U.S. on goal differential but could leap into second by doing what it has tended to do in the past and beat the Americans at the Azteca.

A win there, coupled with a Panama loss to Honduras and a Costa Rica loss or draw vs. Canada, and Mexico would be in with two games to spare. If the U.S. and Mexico draw and both go to 22 points and if Panama were to beat Honduras, that would make things awfully tight for an extra three days, with just two points separating Panama from the automatic-qualifying pack. Mexico would then, not for the first time, become fans of the U.S. vs. Panama, even though Martino’s side would still have everything in its control.

With matches at Honduras and vs. El Salvador to wrap up, the schedule is very much in Mexico’s favor as opposed to earlier in the Octagonal, when it had four consecutive road matches, including two straight at the U.S. and at Canada.


A valiant effort that ended in defeat in Mexico City likely ruined Panama’s chances of automatic qualification. A win in Orlando vs. the U.S. would change everything—its win over the Americans in October was the first in their World Cup qualifying history; Panama’s only other two wins over the U.S. have come in the Gold Cup—but defeat there, coupled with wins over Honduras and a Canada team that should have already qualified by the finale might not even be enough to jump into the top three, especially given Mexico’s schedule outlook.

In terms of finishing fourth, though, it just needs to have a window that’s equal to or better than Costa Rica’s. Should Costa Rica lose to Canada and Panama beat Honduras in the first match of the window, that would create a four-point separation with two matches to play. Panama's last two games (at U.S., vs. Canada) are daunting and could open the door for Los Ticos to sneak in, but as mentioned above, if Canada is already qualified, Herdman’s approach for the finale could be tweaked.

Another factor that could come into play is goal differential. Both Panama and Costa Rica are at +1, so it's quite possible that the best race remaining in Concacaf is the fight for fourth. Either side would take its chances against Oceania’s champion. If recent history is any indication, it’ll be a New Zealand team that, while capable and talented enough, hasn’t played a competitive match in a FIFA competition since the World Cup qualifying playoff it lost to Peru in 2017. The pandemic has drastically altered its region’s qualifying, which has been reduced to a small tournament in March in Qatar. At the very least, the Oceania winner would be acclimated to the location.


Barring any forthcoming sanctions and point reductions for fielding players who had tested positive for COVID-19 in Jamaica on Wednesday night—something that Jamaica has alleged but Costa Rica swiftly denied—Los Ticos, despite having scored just eight goals in 11 matches, remain alive, just a point out of fourth. There’s work to do, and a win against first-place and undefeated Canada in the first game of the window won't be easy to secure. Its more realistic hope is that the U.S. defeats Panama and qualifies with a game to spare, lessening its urgency to go to San José and win and opening the door for some last-day theatrics. Panama has surely seen its fair share of those, both for better and for worse, and it could come down to the final kicks of this qualifying slog once again.


Hugo Pérez’s side is still alive, but its qualifying scenario is as simple as it is unlikely. La Selecta must win out (at Jamaica, vs. Costa Rica, at Mexico) while Panama loses out and Costa Rica doesn’t exceed two points. And even if Panama did lose out and Costa Rica were to get two points exactly, El Salvador would have to make up a goal differential gap of eight with Costa Rica. Its performances during the Octagonal have been commendable, and there’s a foundation being built for a side that could absolutely take one of Concacaf’s berths in 2026, when the World Cup field is expanded to 48 and the three titans of the region are not involved in the qualification process.

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