(ATR) The postponed first round of Concacaf qualifying for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup will begin next week, punished by the coronavirus.
More than half of the countries in North, Central America and the Caribbean competing in the initial phase have lost the advantage of playing at home, mainly due to Covid-19 protocols established in their territories.
Seventeen out of 30 nations will play their home games on neutral ground between March 25-30.
Concacaf tried to play this round recklessly last October but, as expected, the epidemiological situation in the region forced it to be postponed before it even began.
This time around, Concacaf has already warned that it must be played though always with respect for the protection measures in hotels, transfers and stadiums.
But there are health provisions imposed by governments, especially quarantines after entering several countries, which have forced several federations to play their domestic matches at a neutral venue.
Cuban fans, for example, continue to wait to cheer on their national team at home in an official match.
In 2019, Havana could have hosted matches against Canada and the United States in the Concacaf League of Nations, but its main stadium did not meet the proper standards.
But now the pandemic has replaced the poor state of the venue as the main problem. Due to the high number of infections that have been registered since the beginning of 2021 (an average of about 1,000 cases per day until today), half in Havana, visitors to the Island must spend at least one week in hotels waiting for negative test results.
This sanitary protocol, similar in other countries in the area, is forcing Cuba to play its home game against Curaçao in Guatemala, four days after facing the Guatemalans at the Doroteo Guamuch Flores stadium in Guatemala City on March 24.
Santo Domingo is easily the most popular destination in this complex situation.
The capital of the Dominican Republic will host eight games during these five days, between the Pan American Stadium and the Félix Sánchez Stadium, inaugurated for the 2003 Pan American Games.
Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Panama, Dominica, Turks and Caicos Islands and Saint Kitts and Nevis will have Santo Domingo as 'home' for the first qualifying round. The second round will be played in June.
Curaçao will also open its doors to rivals from other groups on the same date. In addition to the host nation, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the British Virgin Islands will play there.
Curaçao, Guatemala, Cuba, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the British Virgin Islands are included in group C.
Anguilla, Aruba and Canada will play their home games in various stadiums in the U.S. state of Florida.
For this first round, Concacaf teams ranked between sixth and 35th based on the July 2020 FIFA rankings are grouped into six groups of five. The group champions qualify for the second round.
For the second phase, the six winners of each bracket from the first round will play a two-legged tie.
The three winners will advance to the final round.
For the final round, the three winners of the second round will join the top five Concacaf teams according to the July 2020 FIFA rankings and will play a final octagonal per league system. The top three teams qualify for the World Cup, with the fourth place finisher advancing to the international play-off.
Costa Rica, the United States, Honduras, Jamaica and Mexico are the five "seeds" in the final round.
Written by Miguel Hernandez
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