2018 World Cup qualifiers: Can USA make it to Russia?
An analysis of the qualifying scenario in the CONCACAF zone.
Only hours are left before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF zone commence. So far, Mexico have qualified for the World Cup from the fifth round which leaves Costa Rica, Panama, United States, and Honduras fight it out for the remaining two direct qualification spots. Trinidad and Tobago have no chance of qualifying directly but they can still qualify via the inter-confederation play-off against either Syria or Australia.
Costa Rica was the surprise package of the 2014 World Cup when they won a group consisting of three former champions in Italy, Uruguay, and England and made it to the quarter-finals where they would lose to the Netherlands.
This time, the Gold Shorties are in a brilliant position to qualify with 15 points, three behind Mexico and are assured of at least a playoff spot. Costa Rica’s next two matches are against Honduras and Panama. The 21st ranked nation only need a point from both matches combined to assure themselves of a place in the finals.
Costa Rica have a very experienced side playing in the qualifiers which include the likes of Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, Michael Umana, and Cristian Bolanos, just to name a few. With a side who have played an average of 7 years with the national team, Costa Rica are bound to confirm their qualification when they conclude their match against Honduras, making their final game against Panama a formality.
During the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, Panama were quite close to qualifying for the tournament but missed out by just a little. However, this time, they have a pretty fair chance of qualifying as currently, they are in the tournament on paper but it may not turn out that way eventually if they mess up in their final two matches against the USA and Costa Rica, both of which are pretty tough ones.
A large portion of Panama’s fate in the qualifying will depend on how they fare in their match against the United States at Orlando which begins in a matter of hours. Even though USA’s performance throughout the qualifiers has been nothing but underwhelming, they somehow manage to get things right in the end.
Provided Panama manage to register a win against the USA and Honduras lose against Costa Rica, then they are assured of making their World Cup debut in Russia next summer. However, given the fact that they are only one point above both USA and Honduras, losing or drawing both matches could make things look gloomy for Panama, with the former scenario eliminating them.
Hence, Panama need to win at least one match to put themselves in a safe position and the best possible chance of a win is against the struggling US team. Even though their match against Costa Rica will be on home turf, winning against a pretty strong and experienced Costa Rica side won’t be easy for Los Canaleros.
During the previous World Cup’s qualifying campaign, USA cruised into Brazil while Mexico were struggling throughout the final qualifying, eventually qualifying through an inter-confederation play-off. This time, the complete exact is happening as Mexico have already qualified and USA are in an extremely delicate position where even one loss out of their final two games will mean elimination.
However, USA’s fixtures seem quite light as they will first be playing Panama at home following which, they will be up against Trinidad and Tobago. While a win against Trinidad and Tobago is certain, if the Stars and Stripes manage to even draw against Panama, it would be enough to see them in Russia.
Honduras’ inferior goal difference of -7 has put them in such a position that if they are to qualify directly, then they should win both their matches against Costa Rica and Mexico by considerable margins and hope that USA and Panama do not win both their matches.
Trinidad and Tobago have no chance of direct qualification but they still have the chance to qualify for the inter-confederation play-off. However, the possibility of that seems pretty minimal as well, firstly due to the fact that their final two matches are up against Mexico and USA and secondly, having a very low goal difference of -11. Hence, Trinidad and Tobago may well end the group in last place.
Qualification to the 2018 World Cup: Mexico, Costa Rica, USA
Play-off spot: Panama
Eliminated: Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago