The 2018 FIFA World Cup does not kick off in Moscow until June 14, 2018 but starting on Friday, many teams will be starting their path to their qualification.
In fact, many nations have already seen their chances at a World Cup appearance slip away.
CONCACAF (aka North American) teams will be starting the fourth round of qualification for the region on Friday as the US national team will meet St. Vincent & the Grenadines in St. Louis (7 pm ET; ESPN2, UniMás, UDN), while the Canadian national team will be hosting Honduras in Vancouver (10 pm ET; TSN1).
The US, by virtue being one of the top teams in CONCACAF, will be playing their first 2018 World Cup qualifying match when they hit the field at Busch Stadium. Canada, on the other hand, began their trek to Russia back in June when they defeated Dominica over two legs and then followed that up with a 4-1 aggregate win over Belize in September.
The US and Canada are joined by 10 other nations in the fourth round of qualification. The 12 teams are split up into three groups:
Group A: Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico
Group B: Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama
Group C: Guatemala, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, USA
The four teams will play each team in their group at home and on the road for a total of six games over the course of the next 10 months. You can find all the match dates below:
November 13, 2015
November 17, 2015
March 25, 2016
March 29, 2016
September 2, 2016
September 6, 2015
The top two finishers from each of the three groups will move on to the fifth and final round of qualifying, which is nicknamed “The Hexagonal” (usually abbreviated to“The Hex”), after the six teams remaining in the competition.
Like the fourth round of qualifying, each nation will face the other nations in the group at home and on the road. The 10 games will be contested in the following windows between November 2016 to October 2017:
November 7-15, 2016
March 20-28, 2017
June 5-13, 2017
August 28-September 5, 2017
October 2-10, 2017
The top three finishers in “The Hex” will automatically qualify for the World Cup while the fourth-place finisher still has a shot to go to Russia.
That nation will meet the fifth-place finisher in AFC (Asia) qualifying in an intercontinental playoff. The two sides will play two legs with the winner advancing to the World Cup. This is similar to how Mexico was able to advance to the 2014 World Cup, after they defeated OFC (Oceania) representatives New Zealand in a playoff.
For the next 10 months, though, Canada and USA will have one clear priority: finish in the top two in the group and keep the road to Russia in sight.