How many qualify in World Cup Qualifiers Concacaf?

The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is one of the six continental confederations of FIFA and is responsible for soccer in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. CONCACAF has 35 member associations and determines how many teams from the region qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

CONCACAF World Cup Qualification Overview

World Cup qualification is a tournament held every 4 years to determine which teams from each confederation will qualify for the FIFA World Cup. For the 2022 World Cup, CONCACAF was allocated 3 direct qualifying spots and 1 inter-confederation playoff spot.

CONCACAF uses a format where teams compete in rounds until the final stage determines the 3 direct qualifiers and 1 playoff team. In total, 35 teams from the CONCACAF region competed for those 4 spots.

First Round

The first round took place from March to June 2019 and involved 30 of CONCACAF’s lowest ranked teams playing in a knockout tournament. The 15 winners advanced to the second round.

Second Round

The second round was contested from June 2019 to November 2019 by the 15 first round winners joined by the 9 highest ranked teams in the region. The 12 victorious teams advanced to the third round.

Third Round

The third round was played from March to September 2021 by the 12 teams that came through the second round. This stage divided the teams into 3 groups of 4 teams each. The top 3 teams in each group advanced to the final round.

Final Round

The final round, also known as the Hexagonal, featured the top 6 teams from the third round. Held from September 2021 to March 2022, each team played home and away against the other 5 opponents in a round robin format. The top 3 teams in the standings qualified directly for the World Cup, while the 4th place team advanced to the inter-confederation playoffs.

Number of Teams Qualifying from CONCACAF

So in summary, the 3 direct World Cup spots were awarded to the top 3 teams in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying:

1. Canada
2. Mexico
3. United States

The team finishing 4th in the final round, Costa Rica, advanced to the inter-confederation playoffs where they defeated New Zealand to claim the final CONCACAF spot at the 2022 World Cup.

Therefore, the 4 teams that qualified from CONCACAF for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar were:

Canada Mexico
United States Costa Rica

CONCACAF World Cup Qualification History

The number of qualifying spots allocated to CONCACAF has increased over time as the region has grown and improved in strength.

Here is a look at how many teams have qualified from CONCACAF for previous World Cup tournaments:

1930 0 (No Qualification Used)
1934 1 (United States)
1938 1 (Cuba)
1950 2 (United States, Mexico)
1954 2 (Mexico, Cuba)
1958 1 (Mexico)
1962 2 (Chile, Mexico)
1966 2 (Mexico, Costa Rica)
1970 1 (Mexico)
1974 1 (Mexico)
1978 2 (Mexico, United States)
1982 2 (Honduras, El Salvador)
1986 2 (Mexico, Canada)
1990 2 (United States, Costa Rica)
1994 3 (United States, Mexico, Costa Rica)
1998 3 (United States, Mexico, Jamaica)
2002 3 (United States, Mexico, Costa Rica)
2006 4 (United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago)
2010 3 (United States, Mexico, Honduras)
2014 4 (Costa Rica, United States, Mexico, Honduras)
2018 3 (Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama)
2022 4 (Canada, Mexico, United States, Costa Rica)

A few key takeaways:

  • No CONCACAF teams participated in the inaugural World Cup in 1930 as there was no qualification
  • The USA was the first CONCACAF team to qualify in 1934
  • Mexico has qualified for the most World Cups with 16 appearances
  • The modern era from 1994 onward has seen 3-4 CONCACAF teams qualify each tournament
  • Canada qualified for the first time since 1986 in 2022

Distribution of CONCACAF World Cup Spots

CONCACAF team allocations for World Cup qualifying are determined based on recent tournament results. Better performing confederations receive more spots.

Currently for a 32 team World Cup, CONCACAF receives:

  • 3 direct qualifying spots
  • 1 inter-confederation playoff spot

With the World Cup expanding to 48 teams for the 2026 tournament hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States, CONCACAF qualifying spots are expected to increase to:

  • 6 direct qualifying spots
  • 1 inter-confederation playoff spot

The top 6 CONCACAF teams will qualify directly to the expanded 48 team World Cup. The team finishing 7th will enter a playoff for one of the final spots.

CONCACAF vs Other Confederations

To put CONCACAF’s World Cup allocation into perspective, here is how it compares to other confederations for recent World Cup tournaments:

Confederation 2018 Spots 2022 Spots 2026 Spots (Expected)
AFC (Asia) 4 direct, 1 playoff 4 direct, 1 playoff 8 direct, 1 playoff
CAF (Africa) 5 5 9 direct, 1 playoff
CONCACAF (North America) 3 direct, 1 playoff 3 direct, 1 playoff 6 direct, 1 playoff
CONMEBOL (South America) 4 direct, 1 playoff 4 direct, 1 playoff 6 direct, 1 playoff
OFC (Oceania) 1 playoff 1 playoff 1 direct
UEFA (Europe) 13 direct, 1 playoff 13 direct, 3 playoffs 16 direct, 3 playoffs

Europe clearly receives the most World Cup spots due to the strength of teams from that confederation. CONCACAF is behind both Europe and South America but compares favorably to Africa and Asia in terms of allocation. Oceania is the only confederation that does not receive any direct entry to the World Cup.

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Format

The CONCACAF World Cup qualification process consists of several rounds before reaching the final stage:

  • First Round – Bottom ranked teams play knockout matches
  • Second Round – Winners from First Round join stronger teams
  • Third Round – Group stage round-robin format
  • Fourth Round – Top teams play home and away round-robin

The format is designed to reduce the number of teams through early knockout rounds before concluding with a round robin group amongst the top teams.

The specifics such as number of groups and teams advancing varies each cycle based on number of entrants and World Cup expansion. But the overall flow remains the same.

For 2026 when the World Cup expands to 48 teams, CONCACAF may alter the format to include an additional group round before the final stage.

Advantages of the CONCACAF Format

Some benefits of the current CONCACAF World Cup qualifying format:

  • Gives minnows a chance to advance via early knockouts
  • Top teams enter later to avoid easy early games
  • Round robin style groups help determine true quality
  • Home and away final round creates exciting rivalries
  • Consistent structure easy for fans to follow

The format helps provide opportunities for smaller teams, while ensuring the region’s powerhouses earn their spots at the end. The final stage creates exciting matchups that come down to the wire.

Criticisms of the Format

There are some criticisms of the current CONCACAF qualifying format:

  • Too many early mismatches between top and bottom teams
  • 6 team final round prevents experimentation with groups
  • No inter-confederation play until World Cup
  • Top teams like Mexico and USA can coast once qualified

While the structure works overall, there are arguments that the big teams need more competitive matches prior to the World Cup. The region could also explore ways to integrate inter-confederation play into qualifying.


In conclusion, CONCACAF has a structured World Cup qualification format that has evolved to allocate 4 of the region’s teams to the last few World Cups. With the World Cup expanding in 2026, CONCACAF can expect up to 7 participants at future tournaments.

The current qualification system uses early knockouts before a final round robin group of 6 teams. This provides opportunities for underdogs while ensuring the top teams prove themselves in competitive fixtures. There are some critiques, but overall the format succeeds in taking the top teams from the region to the World Cup.

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