Canada will face Belize in the next qualification round for the 2018 International Soccer Federation (FIFA) World Cup in Russia.
The preliminary draw took place recently in St. Petersburg.
The national side will host Belize on September 4 at BMO Field in Toronto and the return fixture will be held four days later in the Central American country.
The 201st-ranked country seven years ago, Belize has made steady progress and is now ranked 118th.
“We can say Belize is a team that has made positive and continuous progress,” said national head coach, Benito Floro. “That’s good for us because it won’t be easy to pass this eliminatory round. We need to focus on these first two games with a lot of intensity.”
The winner will advance to Group “A” for the fourth round of qualification that features 11-time Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) champions Mexico, which won its seventh Gold Cup last Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Jamaica, Honduras and the winner of a tie between Curacao and El Salvador, which drew nil-all with Canada in their opening Gold Cup contest earlier this month.
The first two games of that round take place in November.
Floro expects this round to be competitive.
“I think that all the teams have a similar level,” he said. “It’s true that Mexico is one step over the rest. But we need to trust in our players because history has demonstrated that it’s possible to qualify for the hexagonal.”
The top two teams from that round will advance to the hexagonal – the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region. The leading three teams from that six-team group qualify for the World Cup while the fourth-place team will go to a home-and-away intercontinental playoff against a team from Asia.
Ranked 103rd in the world, Canada cleared the first hurdle in its bid to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986 with a 6-0 aggregate victory over Dominica in home-and-away matches last month.
Meanwhile, 53 African countries will compete in three rounds of qualifiers. Zimbabwe is the only country missing following its expulsion from FIFA for failing to pay a former coach.
The first round features the lowest 26 ranked countries. The winners of those ties will advance to the second round where they join the remaining 27 highest ranked sides. In the final round, five groups of four teams will meet both home and away and the winner of each group will qualify for the World Cup.
Africa has been allocated five World Cup spots in the finals to be played from June 14 to July 15, 2018.