CONCACAF to launch Women's Nations League as World Cup qualifying

A Women's Nations League will be launched next year in North and Central America and the Caribbean that will serve as qualifying for the 2023 World Cup, and the United States and Canada will have byes until the event's first championship round in July 2022.

Canada, U.S. earn byes until July 2022 championship round

The United States team poses after winning a CONCACAF women's Olympic qualifying soccer match against Canada in February. On Thursday, CONCACAF announced it was introducing a Women's Nations League for 2024 World Cup qualifying, where Canada and the U.S. will have byes into the championship round. (Chris Carlson/The Associated Press)

CONCACAF is revamping its senior women competitions, changing its World Cup qualifying process and following the men by creating a Women's Nations League.

CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, says its new football calendar, which begins in 2021 and includes major centralized summer tournaments in 2022 and 2024, will provide more matches and competition for its members.

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver native, said the new competitions create a development pathway for all member associations "while at the same time creating strong and competitive finals events to showcase the very best of women's national team football in our region."

Fellow Canadian Karina LeBlanc, CONCACAF's head of women's football, said the new competitions "will accelerate the growth of the women's game in CONCACAF and I can't wait for them to get started next year."

A new World Cup qualifying format sees the U.S. and Canada, the top two CONCACAF nations in the August 2020 FIFA rankings, skip preliminary-round play and enter the final eight-team round of qualifying.

Thirty other CONCACAF nations will be drawn into six groups of five with each team playing four matches, two at home and two away. This group stage will be held in FIFA international match windows in November 2021 and April 2022.

Should more than 30 CONCACAF countries participate, a play-in will be held ahead of the group stage.

The six group winners will join the Americans and Canadians in the final round, scheduled for July 2022. The eight will be split into two groups of four with the top two finishers in each advancing to the knockout rounds.

The final round of competition will determine the CONCACAF teams going to the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023. But how many is unclear at this stage.

The 2023 World Cup is being expanded from 24 to 32 teams, with the exact breakdown of participation by confederation yet to be announced. CONCACAF had three spots and a playoff for a fourth team — Panama lost to Argentina — for the 2019 World Cup in France, with Canada, the U.S. and Jamaica eventually representing the region.

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The inaugural Women's CONCACAF Nations League is set for FIFA windows in September, October and November 2023, with a play-in in April 2024. The centralized finals event is slated for June 2024.

Like the men, teams will be split into groups within three leagues playing home and away matches. The three group winners in the top league will qualify directly to the finals event in the summer of 2024.

Winners of the groups in the second league and runners-up from the top league will have a chance to qualify for the finals via a play-in. CONCACAF teams that compete in the 2024 Olympics will skip the group stage and will receive a bye directly to the finals.

The finals event will feature six CONCACAF teams which qualify through the group stage and play-in, four guest teams from other confederations and two 2024 Olympic-qualified teams.

The 12 teams will be split into three groups of four.

After single round-robin play, the three group winners, three group runners-up and two best third-place finishers will qualify for the knockout stage which will consist of quarterfinals, semifinals and a final.

CONCACAF says its Olympic women's qualifying will be structured through this new calendar of competitions, adding further information will come at a later date.

CONCACAF qualification for the Tokyo Olympics saw regional tournaments in Central America and Caribbean determining five teams to join Canada, Mexico, and the United States at the final qualifying tournament.

The eight-team 2018 CONCACAF Women's Championship served as a qualifier for the 2019 World Cup in France. Canada, Mexico, and the United States qualified automatically for the CONCACAF tournament with two teams from Central America and three from the Caribbean joining them from regional qualifying competitions.

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