Caribbean and Central American nations looking to reach their first-ever FIFA World Cup08 February, 2024
With the 2026 FIFA World Cup taking place across the United States, Canada and Mexico, three of the powerhouses of the region have already qualified as hosts. It’s never easy to make soccer predictions but we might be about to see a new Caribbean or Central American country make history.
CONCACAF, the Football Federation of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, along with its qualification for the World Cup, is usually dominated by three big hitters who will not feature this time around – Canada, the US and Mexico.
Canada is somewhat new to the big stage, having qualified for just the second time in 2022, but with the talent they are producing of late, they are expected to become a semi-permanent fixture in the years to come. Meanwhile, Mexico and the United States are far and away the most successful teams from the region in terms of qualifying.
With the US and Mexico in particular out of the picture, there is a real opportunity for some of the lesser-known teams in CONCACAF to stake their claim and reach their first FIFA World Cup.
Of course, the likes of Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica will remain favourites to qualify from this more open pack, but now the competition has been somewhat reduced, some other footballing nations will believe they have a chance.
Panama, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti have all qualified for one FIFA World Cup before, as have Jamaica and Cuba. Meanwhile, El Salvador have reached two, Honduras have qualified for three, and Costa Rica have made it to a whopping six World Cups.
Therefore, these more established nations will remain confident of their safe passage to the tournament once again. However, should one or two of them slip up, there could be a door left open for some other capable if unglamorous sides.
Curacao would be at the top of that list. Benefiting from its links to the Netherlands, of which it is a constituent country, Curacao boasts world-famous manager Dick Advocaat as head coach, former Southampton and Everton star Cuco Martina as captain and current Birmingham City midfielder Juninho Bacuna among its ranks.
They proved they can hang with the big boys when they hammered Trinidad and Tobago 5-3 last October. Of all the nations yet to have qualified for a World Cup from CONCACAF, they have to be the favourites.
Guatemala have a good shot at reaching their first World Cup too. They may not have gotten all the results they would have hoped for in the CONCACAF Nations League last Autumn, but they proved worthy adversaries against some much glitzier opponents. They beat two-time World Cup participants El Salvador, held Panama to a draw and only narrowly lost to Trinidad and Tobago. Guatemala then followed that campaign up with a draw against Jamaica, one of the biggest football forces in the region.
These are very promising signs for head coach Luis Fernando Tena. Goalscoring striker Oscar Santis, who plays his club football at Dinamo Tbilisi is a real dangerman for the Central American side.
Apart from Panama, who moved a whopping 20 places up the FIFA World Rankings in 2023, Guyana were the biggest movers in CONCACAF. They climbed from 174th in the world to 157th. They did this partly by dominating their CONCACAF Nations League group, beating Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico twice to win all four games. Going into this qualifying campaign, they are for sure one of the most in-form teams in the competition.
Guyana have never come close to qualifying for a FIFA World Cup but this could be their year. Their team is littered with reliable professionals from the lower leagues of English football. Liam Gordon of Walsall, Stephen Duke-McKenna from QPR and Neil Danns of Macclesfield are just a few of those influential players for the Golden Jaguars. They may not be household names around the world, but they play to a respectable level week in, and week out. That experience could prove invaluable.
How does it all work?
The first round of qualifying for the World Cup kicks off in late March and sees Anguilla, Turks and Caicos Islands, US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands face off in two special rounds to see who joins the second round group stage.
The second round is comprised of six groups. The top two teams from these six groups in the second round head to the third round.
The third and final round is made up of three groups of four teams. The winners of each group qualify for the World Cup. Second place in each group has the chance for an inter-confederation play-off based on their ranking.
So it’s not going to be an easy road for the likes of Curacao, Guatemala and Guyana. They will have to get through two long and hard qualifying groups to make history, but it’s in their sights.
With Canada, the United States and Mexico already waiting for them at the 2026 World Cup, these nations will likely never have a better chance of qualifying than they do now.
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