MIAMI, Florida – The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a newly revised format of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying for Qatar 2022, with a Final Round that will see eight teams vie for the 3.5 qualifying spots.
In the previous six cycles of Concacaf WCQ, the Final Round was marked by a round-robin competition known as the Hexagonal, in which six teams played a total of 10 matches to determine which three teams qualified directly to the World Cup and which fourth-placed team advanced to an Intercontinental Playoff.
Reaching the Hexagonal stage was no easy feat. Teams from all across the region had to overcome the hurdles of tricky two-legged ties, plus various group stage phases before arriving to the Hexagonal.
It was so difficult, in fact, that only three nations can lay claim to reaching the each of the six Hexagonals in history: United States, Mexico and Costa Rica.
It started with Concacaf WCQ for France 1998 and Mexico would take top spot in that Hexagonal with an unbeaten record of 4W-6D-0L. To this day, that Mexico team remains the only team in Concacaf history to have finished a Hexagonal without a loss.
Four years later in Concacaf WCQ for South Korea/Japan 2002, more history was made as Costa Rica completed the Hexagonal in scintillating fashion, with a 7W-2D-1L record and a haul of 23 points, the most ever of any team in a Hexagonal.
Among the highlights for the Ticos in that qualifying cycle was becoming the first team to defeat Mexico in a WCQ on Mexican soil, as Hernan Medford’s goal in the 87’ earned Costa Rica a comeback 2-1 victory at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Curiously enough, it all almost didn’t happen for Costa Rica, who barely survived the Semifinal Round of qualifying. The Ticos finished level with Guatemala on 10 points for second place in their group and had to defeat the Chapines 5-2 in a one-game tiebreaker to punch their ticket to the Hexagonal.
The U.S. and Mexico showed their best versions in qualifying for Germany 2006 with each North American nation achieving 22 out of a possible 30 points to finish first and second in the Hexagonal standings, respectively. Among the highlights was FW Jared Borgetti setting a Mexican National Team record for most goals scored in Concacaf WCQ, with 14.
Four years later in their journey to reach the Hexagonal for South Africa 2010, Mexico encountered a pitfall in the Third Round of qualifying. A 1-0 defeat at Honduras for El Tricolor in their final group stage match left Mexico’s World Cup hopes in peril, however they managed to survive on goal difference after finishing level with Jamaica.
The U.S. endured a rocky road to reach the Hexagonal for Brazil 2014. In the Third Round of qualifying, the U.S. found themselves down 1-0 to Guatemala in the final matchday and on the outside looking in, but rallied for a 3-1 victory to reach the Hexagonal.
The going was tough for all three once inside the final six teams, but the U.S. and Costa Rica would rebound from early struggles and punch their World Cup tickets with matches to spare. However, Mexico would require a first-ever Intercontinental Playoff to become the fourth Concacaf nation to qualify for Brazil 2014.
Qualifying for Russia 2018 started in the Fourth Round of qualifying for the three sides, and while Mexico and Costa Rica marched to unbeaten records, the U.S. needed a 4-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago on the final matchday to secure their Hexagonal ticket.
In the Hexagonal, Mexico were at their very best and nearly broke Costa Rica’s Hexagonal points record only to suffer their lone defeat on the final matchday in a 3-2 final with Honduras. Meanwhile, Costa Rica qualified for their fourth World Cup in five attempts with another strong Hexagonal performance, finishing second, while the U.S. missed out on Russia 2018 with a fifth-place finish.