CHICAGO (Oct. 27, 2004) – With one game remaining in semifinal round qualifying play for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. Men’s National Team has officially clinched a spot in the final round of qualifying scheduled throughout 2005. Although the U.S. won’t know exactly who and where they will be playing through the 10-game final round qualifying series, they do know when they will be playing.
With the United States already booking a place in the final round of 2006 World Cup qualifying, the plan for 2005 is looking a lot like a game of fill in the blanks. With much of the qualifying schedule already in place, the two most crucial questions – who and where – are the pieces that will be determined after Nov. 17, the final match date of the 12-team semifinal round.
As of now, here is what we do know:
- The top two teams from each semifinal group will reach the final stage, a six team, round-robin format in which each team will play the other once at home and once on the road.
- The final qualifying dates have been scheduled from Feb. 9-Oct. 12, 2005, and will once again include four sets of "double dates" that will hold two games in the same week. Each team will play once home and once away on each of the four “double dates.”
- The framework of the schedule has already been established. Teams are currently represented as a number between 1-6, with the numbers having been laid out on a grid designating the dates on which they will play their home and away matches. After the conclusion of the semifinal round, a draw will take place at the FIFA Executive meetings from Dec. 15-17 in Zurich to assign each team a number that will correspond to their schedule.
- All of the match dates for final round qualifying are scheduled to take place on dates set aside for international play on the FIFA Coordinated Calendar for 2005. For games on which there is a choice of days to play, the two governing federations negotiate to agree on the chosen date.
- The opening date for the final round is Wednesday, Feb. 9., nearly three weeks earlier than the opening of the final round of qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. U.S. fans will never forget the "Guerra Fria" in Columbus, when the U.S. shut down Mexico 2-0 in frigid temperatures at Crew Stadium on Feb. 28, 2001.
- The first double date comes almost six weeks later, with March 26/27 and March 30 tagged for Matchday 2 and Matchday 3. While the USA's European-based players will be in full swing, these games will come just prior to the opening of the 10th season of Major League Soccer.
- After a more than two month break in the schedule, the teams will reach the halfway point of the hexagonal with games on June 4/5 and June 8. At that point, qualifying will take a back seat to the regional championship as the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup takes place July 6-24 in the United States.
- The second half of the campaign kicks off midweek on Aug. 17, and is followed by the third set of “double dates” scheduled for Sept. 3/4 and Sept. 7.
- The three teams that will automatically advance to the 2006 FIFA World Cup will be settled after the final two match days, which fall on Oct.8/9 and Oct. 12.
- The fourth-place team will compete in a two-match playoff in November against the fifth-place team from Asia for a ticket to Germany, with the dates and order of matches to be drawn by FIFA.
Below is the final round schedule grid in CONACAF qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup:
Note: Home teams listed first … Round 9 & 10 will be played simultaneously … Each team will play three Wednesdays and two weekends at home … Each team will play once home and once away on each double date.