The CONCACAF Gold Cup is revamping its format next year with 2022 World Cup host Qatar joining the field as a guest participant.
The tournament, which serves as the championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean, is instituting a 12-team preliminary round vying for the final three spots in the 16-country group stage.
The preliminary round replaces the Road to Gold Cup Qualifiers, which were slated to be played in the pandemic-halted March and June FIFA match windows this year.
The tournament's knockout phase, meanwhile, is being changed to allow teams on opposite sides of the bracket to meet from the quarterfinals onwards. Previously, teams from other sides of the bracket could not come together until the final.
The Gold Cup, expanded from 12 to 16 teams in 2019, will run July 10 through Aug. 1 in 2021 with venues to be announced. The draw for both the preliminary and group stage will take place Sept. 28.
"After such a challenging time for communities across the region and the world, we hope the return of international football, and the prospect of another great Gold Cup, can provide some hope and enjoyment for fans starting with a great draw event next month," Canadian Victor Montagliani, who doubles as CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president, said in a statement.
The new preliminary round will be played as a direct-elimination format, from July 2 to 6 in a centralized location in the U.S. The 12 teams participating will be the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Twelve teams including Canada have already booked their place in the group stage by virtue of their performance in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League. Other qualifiers are Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Suriname and the U.S.
Those 12 represent the winners and runners-up in Nations League League A groups, and the winners of League B groups. The 73rd-ranked Canadian men were runner-up to the U.S. in League A Group A.
The 12 preliminary-round teams were also chosen for Nations League performances, comprising the third-place teams from League A groups, second-place teams from League B groups, and the winners of League C groups.
Qatar will be the 13th team with the three survivors from the qualifying round making up the final field of 16.
Currently ranked 55th in the world, Qatar will be the second Asian Football Confederation team to compete as a guest in the Gold Cup. South Korea participated in 2000, when Canada won the event, and 2002.
"As the AFC Asian Champions, they will provide stern opposition for CONCACAF teams," said Montagliani.
Qatar, which failed to get out of the first round of the 2019 Copa America in Brazil with an 0-2-1 record, will also be a guest team in the 2023 Gold Cup.
Canada made the quarterfinals of the 2019 Gold Cup, exiting in a 3-2 loss to Haiti.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press