CONCACAF 2022 World Cup Qualifiers Nears Halfway Point
During the October international window, contesting teams in the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers for North, Central America and the Caribbean played three more matches each. Six games have been played in total and, with the tournament almost halfway through, some teams' positions in the standings are becoming more established, while others are still jostling for a qualification spot. However, with eight games remaining, and as the October action showed, anything can happen…
Gains and Losses
Over the past three matchdays, there has been plenty of movement at the top and bottom of the standings.
At the top, group leaders Mexico took a drop down into second place in favour of the USA. But, two wins later, they ended the window back in pole position with the American team directly behind. Rising stars, Canada fell from second place to fourth only to settle in third over the course of their three fixtures. Panama briefly sat in third but ended the week in the same position as they started, fourth.
At the other end of the table, Costa Rica, though dropping to sixth mid-week, ended the break still in fifth. Honduras took the biggest nosedive, ending up on the bottom rung from sixth place. El Salvador's fortunes picked up at the start of the week with a jump up to fifth place from seventh, but the team found themselves back where they started when the final whistle blew. And finally, Jamaica, whose start to the competition has been beset by losses, managed to lift themselves off the bottom rung into sixth place with a well-timed draw and a crucial win!
At the end of the break, the standings stack up as follows:
|TeamCosta Rica||Points6||Goal Difference-1|
|TeamEl Salvador||Points5||Goal Difference-5|
Mexico started their week with a 1-1 head-to-head against Canada on home soil. Backed by a raucous home crowd, the Mexicans opened the scoring in the 21st minute with a nutmeg from Jorge Sanchez through the legs of Canadian keeper Maxime Crepeau. However, despite missing some key players, The Reds, unbeaten in the tournament to date, rallied and slotted home an equaliser in the early second half. The draw gave Canada a valuable point against the continent's top-ranked team.
After their disappointing draw with the Canadians, El Tri regrouped to hammer Honduras 3-0 and win against El Salvador 2-0. The Hondurans, on Mexican soil, had little opportunity to challenge El Tri during their match, especially after defender Maynor Figueroa was given a red card in the 49th. And, having come from a goalless draw against Costa Rica on the opening day, the loss was critical for the Hondurans. A further loss against Jamaica sealed their fate as they dropped to eighth place.
In El Salvador, the Mexican squad faced a hostile crowd, but Mexico was the better team and deserved their victory on the day. The team dominated the match, had overall control of possession and created the most chances. El Salvador troubled the Mexican keeper very little during the entire game. For La Selecta, the loss would have been disappointing after their previous 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, especially after a bright start to the window against Panama. The team made their home advantage count in their opening match against Panama taking the game's only goal and cutting short the Panamanians undefeated record in this round of the competition. However, after two losses, El Salvador only picked up three of the nine points available.
The USA had a decent start to the October window. At home, and looking their most comfortable in the tournament to date, the American team beat Jamaica 2-0. While it wasn't an easy ride against The Reggae Boyz, who defended stoutly, the Stars and Stripe squad were confident, in control, and ready to take advantage of any Jamaican mistakes. The win, and Mexico's draw against Canada, saw the team move into the top spot. The victory, however, was quickly overshadowed by the team's diabolical loss to Panama days later. The 1-0 result was the team's first loss of the competition, but the lacklustre performance, sluggish pace and sloppy passing gave the Panamanians a perfect opportunity to deliver the defeat. Having dropped back into second place, the USA needed a win against Costa Rica to fortify their position. With the youngest lineup ever fielded in a World Cup qualifier, the American squad did just that. Overcoming an early deficit, after Costa Rica's Keysher Fuller scored in the game's first minute, the red, white, and blues blasted home two much-needed goals to take the win.
Panama's shock victory over the USA may have given the Panamanian team a much-needed boost after their loss to El Salvador. However, up against Canada in Toronto, Los Canaleros were thoroughly trounced. Despite a slow start from Canada, which saw the Panamanians punt in the opener just five minutes into the game, the Canadian's confidence never seemed to waiver, and they picked up the pace to deliver an emphatic win. Canada's first goal by Tajon Buchanan from a corner was deemed an own goal from Panama courtesy of Michael Murillo. However, there was no doubt who scored the second Canadian goal of the match. The strike from Alphonso Davies was a humdinger, the goal of the tournament. In individual effort, Davies sprinted eighty yards after the ball, stole it from an unsuspecting defender, and side-stepped another on his way to smashing home the ball past the shocked Panamanian goalkeeper. A header from Buchanan and a one-touch effort from Jonathon Davis concluded the win. The Canadian team's 4-1 win bounced the squad back into third place from fourth after their disappointing draw with Jamaica.
Jamaica's match against Canada signalled a change in tack for The Reggae Boyz. After their away loss to America, the squad came out onto the pitch, all guns blazing on home soil. While Canada held the majority of possession, they had to work hard to keep control - the Jamaican team defended aggressively. Any chances the Canadians tried to convert were remarkably saved by Jamaica's goalkeeper, Andre Blake. Conversely, Canada's Maxime Crepeau also did well to prevent Jamaica from taking the lead towards the end of the second half, with their best chance of the match. Buoyed by the draw and their efforts, Jamaica gave a confident performance in their follow up 2-0 game against Honduras. In their first win of the tournament and their first on Honduran soil in CONCACAF qualification history, The Reggae Boyz looked solid, taking control of the midfield and applying pressure to the home defence. The Catrachos fought back hard but found it difficult to break through, and when they did, their efforts were impressively saved by Blake. With a debut goal from Kemar Roofe in the first half and another from Oneil Fisher in the second, Jamaica took the win and finally moved up the scoreboard.
Costa Rica had a decidedly average October break. In their first match against Honduras, the Costa Ricans picked up one point from a goalless draw. The single point moved them up the table into fifth and nearer to a qualifying position. The team fared better in their second match at home against El Salvador. Los Ticos came back from one-nil down to fire home two shots for the 2-1 win. However, the seasoned team came unstuck when faced with the USA's youthful lineup, not helped by an injured Keylor Nevas, the Ticos world famous goalkeeper, leaving the match halfway through. Despite an early opener for Costa Rica, the USA's two follow up goals left the squad with no points from the game. They finished the window in fifth place, just outside the top three qualification slots and fourth place playoff slot.
Outlook for November
With eight matches left in the tournament, the teams have everything to play for over the coming months. Only the top three teams will receive a direct pass to the 2022 World Cup at the end of the competition. The fourth-placed team will have the opportunity to take part in an inter-confederation playoff tournament in June 2022 for a shot at the final slot. Mexico, the USA and Canada will be playing to secure their top spots and direct tickets to Qatar's World Cup. Panama's efforts will be focussed on leapfrogging any of the group leaders to steal their place. However, the Panamanians will also be watching their backs as Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador, and even last-placed Honduras try to bag a top spot or the playoff place at least for themselves.
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