World Cup vs Gold Cup

World Cup vs CONCACAF Gold Cup – What’s The Difference?

Last updated on February 18th, 2022

There are quite a few international football competitions, where teams from different countries will play against each other.

If you’re from North America, you may have seen your country participate in both the World Cup and the Gold Cup. However, which one is better, and how are these competitions different?

Here’s what you need to know:

The difference between the World Cup and Gold Cup

The World Cup is an intercontinental competition that includes countries from all 6 different continents, while the Gold Cup only involves countries in North America (CONCACAF). As a result, the World Cup may be more prestigious compared to the Gold Cup.

Here is an in-depth comparison between these 2 competitions:

Number of teams involved

The World Cup has 32 teams in the actual tournament, where it is split into 8 groups of 4 teams.

Meanwhile, the Gold Cup has half the teams in the World Cup (16 teams), containing 4 groups of 4 teams.

Initially, there were only 12 teams before it expanded to 16 teams in 2019.

The Gold Cup is a competition for CONCACAF national teams, while the CONCACAF Champions League is a competition for CONCACAF clubs.

As such, there will be a greater variety in the teams that participate in the World Cup, compared to the Gold Cup.

This only measures the number of teams in the main competition. There will be quite a few teams that were involved in the qualifying rounds which do not make the cut.

Number of continents involved

The World Cup involves countries from all over the world. However, there is a limit to how many teams per continent can feature in the World Cup:

ContinentNumber of Countries
Asia4 or 5
North, Central America
and the Caribbean
3 or 4
South America4 or 5
Oceania0 or 1

These limits were decided in 2015 for the next few World Cups, until 2022.

The host will automatically for the competition, which leaves 31 more slots for the other teams.

Europe has the most number of slots at 13! The next continent with the second-highest number of teams includes both Asia and South America.

Meanwhile, the Gold Cup only involves countries that are a part of CONCACAF, which are countries from:

  • North America
  • Central America
  • The Caribbean

There are 41 member associations from CONCACAF, and the more popular ones would include USA, Mexico and Canada.

You may want to note that clubs that are from CONCACAF countries are ineligible to play in the UEFA Champions League, but can play in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The Gold Cup may host some guest nations too

You may have noticed that Qatar played in the 2021 Gold Cup, even though they are not an association of CONCACAF.

This is because Qatar is considered as a guest nation, where these nations were invited to participate in the Gold Cup.

Qatar was the first guest nation to participate in the Gold Cup since 2005, and they will be playing in the Gold Cup in 2023 as well.

Frequency of the competition

The Gold Cup happens every 2 years, during the odd-numbered years. The last tournament was held in 2021, and the next one will be in 2023.

Meanwhile, the World Cup happens once every 4 years. The World Cup is usually held 2 years apart from the continental competitions, such as the Euros.

It is also held 2 years apart from the Olympics. With many restrictions being placed on Olympic football, it is no wonder why it is much less popular compared to the World Cup.

Since the Gold Cup is held in the odd-numbered years while the World Cup is held in the even-numbered years, there will not be any overlaps between these 2 competitions.

Duration of the competition

Both the World Cup and the Gold Cup are usually held over the course of one month. For the World Cup, the competition usually starts in June, one month after most football seasons end in May.

It will then run all the way till the end of July.

This is because the May-August period is the season break for most leagues. As such, the World Cup matches can be played continuously, after a few days’ break between matches.

Meanwhile, the Gold Cup has a less consistent schedule. It was held between July and August in 2021, while it was held between June and July in 2019.

Format of competition

Both the World Cup and the Gold Cup consist of a group stage, and then a knockout round.

The top 2 teams from each group will progress onto the knockout round of the tournament.

If you’re wondering what happens if the top teams have the same points in the group stages, you can check out this article to find out more.

For the knockout rounds, it is slightly different for both competitions.

In the World Cup, the knockout round will start with the round of 16. This is because the top 2 teams from each of the 8 groups will qualify for the next part of the tournament.

The top 2 teams from the Gold Cup will qualify for the knockout rounds too. However, since the Gold Cup only involves 16 teams, the knockout rounds will start from the quarter-finals, instead of the round of 16.

Presence of third-place match

For the World Cup, a third-place match will be held between the losers of both semi-finals in the World Cup.

Meanwhile, the third-place match has not been held in the Gold Cup ever since the 2017 tournament.

Number of matches

Assuming that your team is able to reach the final of the World Cup, your team will play 7 matches from the start of the tournament.

of Matches
Group Stages3
Round of 161
Final / Third-
placed match

In the case of the Gold Cup, your team will play one less match (6). This is because the Gold Cup only involves 16 teams, so the knockout rounds will only start from the quarter-finals.

Squad size

Both the World Cup and the Gold Cup have the same squad size (23). This is slightly lower compared to club competitions like the Champions League which allow 25 players and an unlimited amount of homegrown players.

Qualification for competition

Both competitions have a qualifying round to make it to the final tournament.

Countries that play in the Gold Cup can do so due to their performance in the CONCACAF Nations League.

League Group
Qualified TeamsNumber
Of Teams
League ATop 2 teams of each group8
League BWinners of each group4

This means that these 12 teams will already qualify for the Gold Cup. The remaining 4 slots in the Gold Cup will be decided by the Gold Cup qualifiers, which involve:

  • 4 third-placed teams of League A
  • 4 second-placed teams of League B
  • 4 group winners of League C

These are the next best CONCACAF teams that did not already qualify for the Gold Cup.

For the World Cup, the host is able to receive automatic qualification.

Apart from that, all of the countries would have to play in the World Cup qualifiers, which differ for the different countries.

Rewards for winning competition

When your country wins the World Cup, it is considered to be one of the greatest honours to win as a footballer. This is because your country will be considered to be the best footballing team in the world.

Some people may say that the Champions League may be better than the World Cup, but it’s really up to your discretion!

If your country wins the Gold Cup, it will signify that your country is the best in CONCACAF. However, it may be considered to be less prestigious than winning the World Cup.


Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

World CupCONCACAF Gold Cup
Number of
Number of
61 (Northern America)
Possible to have guest nations
Frequency of
Every 4 yearsEvery 2 years
Duration of
1 month1 month
Format of
Group stage +
knockout round (RO16)
Group stage + 
knockout round (QF)
Third Place
Number of
Up to 7Up to 6
Squad Size2323
QualificationWorld Cup
CONCACAF Nations League
+ Gold Cup Qualifiers
NoneOnly for hosts
Rewards for
Winning Competition
Best country
in the world
Best country

Does the winner of the Gold Cup qualify for the World Cup?

Winning the Gold Cup will not result in your country receiving automatic qualification for the World Cup. Your country’s team will still need to participate in the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, but they may receive a higher seeding due to their performance in the Gold Cup.

If your country wins the Gold Cup, it mainly means that your country is the best team in CONCACAF. This is similar to how winning the Euros would signify that you country is the best team in Europe.

However, the results of the Gold Cup do not directly impact whether your team automatically qualifies for the World Cup.

Instead, your country’s FIFA World Ranking may be higher due to their performance in the Gold Cup.

If your country is one of the top-ranked teams in CONCACAF, they may have a greater chance of qualifying for the World Cup!


Both the World Cup and Gold Cup are international competitions. However, the World Cup may have more prestige compared to the Gold Cup, since it is an intercontinental competition while the Gold Cup is just a tournament for North American teams!

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