MIAMI (Reuters) - The first steps on the road to the 2018 World Cup finals were taken on Thursday when the CONCACAF region held its draw for the opening rounds of qualification, with Canada handed a tie against Dominica or the British Virgin Islands.
CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, will begin qualifying on March 23, two weeks after Asian qualifying kicks off the global campaign for 32 spots in Russia.
The first round features two-legged ties between the 14 lowest ranked teams in the region, with the winners advancing to take on the 12 teams ranked 9th to 21st.
Canada are ranked 13th in CONCACAF and face a second round tie in June against the winner of the game between Dominica and the British Virgin Islands.
The Canadians are looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 but even if they get past round two they face a long road to Russia.
Another home and away tie in round three is followed by a group stage featuring three pools of four nations, with the top two advancing to the final round — a six team group playing 10 games each between November 2016 and October 2017.
CONCACAF will have three teams gaining automatic qualification to Russia with a fourth given a spot in a playoff.
At the last World Cup in Brazil, three of the four CONCACAF teams advanced from the group stage for the first time, with Costa Rica reaching the quarter-finals and Mexico and the United States going out in the last 16.
“In Brazil we had the most successful World Cup in the history of our confederation,” said CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. “We celebrate the achievement of those four members which was the direct result of their vision and focus on youth and player development.”
The first round also features ties between Bermuda and Bahamas and Barbados v U.S. Virgin Islands.
Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Peter Rutherford