Pandemic may force Canadian men to play home World Cup qualifiers at neutral sites

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani says Canada will likely have to play its first home World Cup qualifying matches at a neutral site due to pandemic-related restrictions.

Border issues and the need for quarantine complicate a qualifying schedule that has already been pushed back several times due to COVID-19. The Canadian men are slated to pay their first home qualifying match in late March.

“Listen, it’s not going to be as easy as it was before, when you just got on a plane and you play or you play at home,” Montagliani told reporters Wednesday. “Obviously no fans for probably the vast majority of these games, if not all of them. There’ll be neutral venues for some of them. Canada, I would think, would be a neutral venue. Although it would be a home game, it would still be a neutral venue.

“It’s World Cup qualifying so it’s the responsibility of each federation to sort their things out. It’s not really a CONCACAF event. However, having said that, we’re helping and facilitating as much as possible to help our federations from a logistical standpoint to ensure that March goes off as smoothly as possible.”

Montagliani doubles as a FIFA vice-president and is a former president of the Canadian Soccer Association.

Canada Soccer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. No venues have been announced for the Canadian home games.

Montagliani says CONCACAF can use intel gained from the experiences of other confederations to help with the staging of the games. Canada has also just held a national team camp in a bubble in Bradenton, Fla.

Must win group to advance

The top five sides in the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, skip the first two qualifying rounds and go directly to the final round-robin stage.

The other 30, including 72nd-ranked Canada, will battle it out to see which three join No. 9 Mexico, the 22nd-ranked Americans, No. 47 Jamaica, No. 51 Costa Rica and No. 64 Honduras.

Canada is scheduled to open its qualifying campaign March 25 in Group B play at home to No. 169 Bermuda, the first of a possible 20 matches the Canadian men will have to play if they are to book their ticket to Qatar in 2022.

The Canadians then play March 28 at the 193rd-ranked Cayman Islands and June 5 at No. 200 Aruba before wrapping up first-round play June 8 at home to No. 141 Suriname.

Canada needs to win its group to advance to the second round of qualifying.

Should Canada survive the first round, it will open the second round June 12 at the Group E winner before hosting the rematch on June 15.

The Canadian men, who are co-hosting the 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and the U.S., have only ever qualified for one World Cup — 1986 in Mexico where they exited after failing to score in losses to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

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