Team Bahamas player Cameron Hepple looks for an open teammate in this file photo.
Team Bahamas will be a part of a new format come October and November when the first round of the North, Central American and Caribbean section of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification is held.
During the first round, Team Bahamas will be placed among five other nations in a single group. Those teams will play single round-robin matches, two home and two away games, with just the winner of the group qualifying to the second round. The draw for the first round will be held in mid August.
In the second round, the six group winners from the first round will play in a two-legged home-and-away series, and the three winners will advance to the final round.
In the final round, the three second-round winners will join the top five teams from the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association
Football) region, based on the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) World Rankings, and play home-and-away round-robin matches in a single group. The top three teams will qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup which is set for November 21 to December 18, 2022, in Qatar. The fourth-placed team will advance to the inter-confederation playoffs for a chance to be the fourth team from the CONCACAF region to advance to the world cup.
The new format was announced just this week.
The Bahamas is currently ranked at number 30 in the region, and at number 195 in the world based on the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings. BFA Secretary General Fred Lunn recognizes that it is an uphill battle for the squad.
“Well, it’s great to see that CONCACAF is making every effort for us to get back on the football field, but it’s a wait-and-see game with us. The good thing about this new format is if we are allowed to play, we’ll get a few more games based on how the groups are put together. We will get to play four games in the first round, and it’s going to be a tough challenge, but if everything opens up, we are certainly looking forward to that,” he said.
Team Bahamas has never advanced past the second round of FIFA World Cup qualification. According to the FIFA International Match Calendar, the initial first-round matches, which were affected by the presence of the coronavirus pandemic, are now set for October 5-13, and they will continue November 9-17. The second round matches will take place March 22-30, 2021; and the final round of matches will be held from May 2021 to March 2022. FIFA announced that the inter-confederation playoffs, originally scheduled for March 2022, will now be held June 2022.
As it stands now, given the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, there is no telling if there will be any games in October. The country is apparently headed toward a series of weekend lockdowns, and the national curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in place through the week. During this time, all sporting activities are prohibited.
“Well, we will have to wait and see how it goes,” said Lunn. “We don’t know if we will be allowed to train because all sporing activities are on hold, but we have to be prepared. We support the direction that the government is going in because what they are doing is for the safety of all of us in The Bahamas. We have confidence in the government to do the right thing. We would love to see sporting activities resume and see the country open up but we have to be mindful that this virus is still out there. As for the games, we will just have to wait to see who we are playing, but we’re optimistic.”
As mentioned, the draw for the first round will be held in mid August.
The top five ranked nations in the CONCACAF region will advance directly to the final round of qualification, where they will be joined by three teams from the second round of qualification. Those five top ranked teams are Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras. They will play home-and-away round-robin matches in a single group, and the top three teams will directly qualify for the world cup.
The remaining 29 teams in the CONCACAF region will have to go through the rounds in order to qualify for the world cup. In the first round, they are drawn into six groups of five and will play single round-robin matches with just the group winners qualifying for the second round. The top ranked teams out of those 29 will lead separate groups.
All 35 FIFA-affiliated national teams from the CONCACAF region will enter qualification.