Settling on Concacaf's current top-ranked six countries for "the Hex" portion of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying has been called into question. Concacaf president Victor Montagliani said maintaining the current qualifying format would "be an integrity issue" during a media call on Monday. The former Canada Soccer executive was quizzed on this year’s upcoming qualifying calendar as COVID-19 delays and cancellations have all but halted world football, including a pair of friendlies between Canada and Trinidad & Tobago. Canada scheduled the March friendlies in an attempt to qualify for “The Hex,” needing 14 points in FIFA's world rankings to overtake El Salvador for the sixth and final spot in Concacaf's World Cup qualifying shortcut. More friendlies were expected in the June international window which would have given Les Rouges a greater chance to earn a valuable "Hex" spot if not for the global pandemic. "If the format needs to change, then it needs to change," Montagliani stated. "We’re looking at how it is going to change and how will it affect the format of World Cup qualifying, which in likelihood will happen." RELATED READING: CanMNT’s quest of making the Hex ends with a string of postponements Before the current crisis, Canada was on course to compete in an arduous secondary Concacaf qualifying competition (which would include a group stage and subsequent knockout rounds), with the ultimate winner then facing the fourth-place finisher from "The Hex" in a two-game series with a World Cup berth at stake. "We may have to look at reformatting what this looks like... What we don’t know is what this thing will look like," Montagliani said. So, how could 2022 World Cup qualifying look with further COVID-19 delays? Here are a few potential scenarios.
Expand “The Hex” to eight teams

It’s simple: Expanding "the Hex" to eight teams, split into two groups, giving the group winners and the best second-placed team a spot in the 2022 World Cup. Montagliani’s integrity concerns are covered in this format, as adding bubble teams such as Canada and Curaçao to “The Hex” forgives lost points from COVID-19 delays. This format also nearly halves required matchdays from 10 to six. Condensing would be key to Concacaf’s plan, as Montagliani has already questioned whether matches will happen in September and October, even if club football returns by the summer. Additionally, bringing Canada and Curaçao into “The Hex” allows more flexibility for Concacaf’s secondary tournament. With 27 teams, for example, countries could be divided into nine groups of three and it would reduce matchday requirements from six to three.
Remove home-and-away matchups

Another straight-forward fix: Remove the home-and-away element of group stages and just do one match against each opponent. Obviously this would halve all qualifying matches but it would cause massive logistical headaches and be unfair to just about every member nation (playing both Mexico and the U.S. away from home, for example). File this under "highly-doubtful."
Straight knockout format

Seven international windows have been reserved for Concacaf World Cup qualifying, starting with September’s group stage openers. If you reduced the Concacaf’s field from 35 teams to 32, suddenly a neat, five-round two-legged knockout stage presents itself: round of 32, round of 16, quarter-finals, etc. Matches could easily be played from November 2020 to October 2021. This would, save for the six minnows forced into a playoff, offer a fair pathway to all Concacaf members and ultimately it would be the quickest to throw together. Narratives would be ripe to pluck from this kind of setup, too. Imagine Costa Rica facing Honduras in the second round? Or if a minnow makes a run to the quarter-finals?
Use 2021 Gold Cup as qualifiers

Concacaf can use the Gold Cup to decide qualification, as the 2021 version is set to be played 14 months from now and a year before the 2022 Qatar World Cup. It’s an interesting idea with one major flaw: What about the countries not at the Gold Cup? Currently, 12 of 16 teams have already been confirmed with another four set to be added via Gold Cup playoffs.
Think outside the box

If COVID-19 restrictions persist, Concacaf, like other governing bodies, may have to think outside the box. Specifically, outside of the assigned qualifying window. Perhaps FIFA allows World Cup qualifying well into 2022? Perhaps later that Spring? It seems like a stretch, but it could be Concacaf best bet at producing a fair competition and creating a clear path to the sport’s biggest tournament.

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