CONCACAF Teams Edge Closer to 2022 World Cup Qualifying Glory
Over the January break, eight North, Central American and Caribbean teams played three more matches in the CONCACAF 2022 World Cup qualification competition. By the end of the third matchday, only five nations were left in the running for the top three qualification places and the fourth-place playoff spot.
Canada finished the window as they started, at the top of the standings. And, after three cracking matches, they are just two points away from qualifying. Despite a frustrating loss to Canada, the USA maintained their position in second place. However, Mexico is right behind them, separated by just a goal difference of three. Although Panama faced two defeats over the break, it still holds fourth place, but the losses cancelled out several advantages. The gap between the Panamanian team and the three board leaders has widened significantly. And Costa Rica, who beat Panama and Jamaica and drew with Mexico this window, is now just one point behind. Jamaica, El Salvador and Honduras were all eliminated.
Let’s take a closer look at the action throughout the three-game winter window:
Matchday Three Action
Canada took on El Salvador in San Salvador on their final outing of the winter break. On the back of a 2-0 win over Honduras and a 2-0 victory against the USA, and unbeaten over eleven qualification matches, the Canadians were favourites to win. Nonetheless, El Salvador, the home crowd and the heat didn’t make it easy for the table leaders. Not the prettiest of matches, the game was chippy and physical, and El Salvador pressed throughout. But, the Canadians stood up to the test with discipline and a sturdy defence and eventually managed a slim 2-0 victory, taking them within spitting distance of qualifying.
On the day, the match remained goalless after an hour of play. Both teams sought to open the scoring, but none of the chances created led to anything on the scoreboard. However, Canada struck home, very unconventionally, in the 60th minute. The Reds Cycle Larin rode a challenge down the flank and made a cross for teammate Atiba Hutchinson, who sprinted sixty yards to reach it, just outside the goalmouth. Hutchinson headed the ball, but it bounced off the woodwork. The rebound was akin to a pinball game. The ball bounced off of a nearby Salvadorian defender, onto the back of a prone Hutchison, and straight over the line. Bizarre and unique, and undoubtedly lucky, but a goal nonetheless. The team’s second and game-clinching goal was slammed home in extra time by Jonathon David. David made a brilliant run from his own half to strike the ball home. Canada, on 24 points, all but secured their 2022 World Cup qualification spot with the win. El Salvador, on 7 points, were eliminated.
The USA cruised to victory over Honduras on Matchday Three of the window. The 3-0 win gave the Americans a much-needed boost after their 2-0 defeat to Canada and helped them maintain their position in second, slightly ahead of Mexico.
From the game’s starting whistle, the USA consistently applied pressure on Honduras and put in a comprehensive effort across the 90 minutes. Weston McKennie opened the scoring in the 8th minute of the match. McKennie headed home a brilliant free-kick from Kellyn Acosta. Timothy Weah almost added to the score with a 20th-minute strike. However, Honduras’ keeper Luis Lopez made a phenomenal save at full stretch with his fingertips to keep the ball out. Less than 20 minutes later, and off the back of another free-kick from Acosta, Walker Zimmerman booted home a second goal to double the lead. Substitute Christian Pulisic put the cherry on the cake for the Stars and Stripes with a goal in the 67th. A corner kick from Acosta, headed across the goal by Ricardo Pepi, clipped Zimmerman, was sent to the back of the net by Pulisic. With the win, Honduras were eliminated, and the USA was awarded a crucial three points.
Mexico went head-to-head with Panama in a fight for third place. A loss for either meant a more challenging hill to climb in March to stay in the running for an automatic qualification place. Both teams began the match with a single point separating them, Mexico in third on 18 points and Panama in fourth on 17 points. Panama started the game strongly and applied pressure on the offensive throughout the match. Though they forced several saves from Mexico’s Guillermo Ocha, they didn’t manage to finish any of the chances they created. Mexico started more slowly but took control of the game in the second half, leading to an eventual 1-0 win.
On the day, Mexico’s Raul Jimenez managed to hit the back of the net just after the interval. However, an earlier offside in the play leading up to the goal meant that Mexico’s celebrations were short-lived. However, ten minutes before the end of a hard-fought game, Jimenez got a second chance. A foul on Diego Lainez gave Mexico a penalty kick. Jimenez lined up and thumped the back of the net with his effort, giving Mexico a narrow victory. Mexico defended its third-place spot in the standings on 21 points, while Panama stayed fourth on 17 points. The loss was a blow to the Panamanians, but they still have a fighting chance of qualifying automatically or via the playoffs.
Jamaica hosted Costa Rica on the last day of the break. Costa Rica desperately needed a win to keep their qualification dreams alive. Sitting in fifth place and just outside the qualification zone, they were four points adrift of fourth-placed Panama. Only a win would see them keep pace with the pack leaders.
Jamaica started the game with intent and threatened the Costa Rican goal on several occasions, making keeper Keylor Nevas work hard to keep the scoreline empty. After a goalless first half, Costa Rica upped the ante and came out fighting. Celso Borges made a good attempt from a penalty kick in the 61st minute of the match, but Jamaica’s keeper Andre Blake made the save. Blake wasn’t so lucky a minute later when Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell took a shot at the sticks. The strike went in, and Costa Rica took the win 1-0. Jamaica was eliminated, and Costa Rica kept their World Cup hopes still burning. The Costa Ricans now sit just one point behind Panama.
The standings at the end of the January break:
|Costa Rica||POINTS16||GOAL DIFFERENCE1|
|El Salvador (Eliminated)||POINTS9||GOAL DIFFERENCE-7|
|Jamaica (Eliminated)||POINTS7||GOAL DIFFERENCE-7|
|Honduras (Eliminated)||POINTS3||GOAL DIFFERENCE-17|
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