First Window Of CONCACAF’s Final World Cup Qualifiers Round Sewn Up
The third and final round of the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifiers for North and Central America and the Caribbean got underway this September window. Only eight teams remain in the campaign to reach the World Cup tournament in Qatar, and only three direct slots are available. The battle kicked off on September 3rd and ended on the 9th. Twelve matches were played, giving each national squad the opportunity to earn up to nine points and their place in the opening standings. At the end of the week and after a bumpy ride for a few, the competition is underway, and initial claims for the top spots have been staked.
The 2022 CONCACAF qualifiers are decided over three rounds between March 2021 to March 2022. Rounds One and Two were contested by twenty-nine teams, of which only three won their place in the final round. The three victors (Canada, El Salvador and Panama) from the initial rounds now joining CONCACAF's top five teams (Mexico, USA, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras) to fight for three direct slots at the 2022 World Cup tournament, and, for a last chance at qualifying for one place at the intercontinental playoffs next June.
Round Three teams will play a round-robin of home and away matches as a single group. The top three teams will take the coveted three 2022 spots, and the fourth-placed team will take their chances at the playoffs.
The rest of the third and final round of matches will be played out over the next five international windows (October, November, January, February and March).
Twelve matches, three per team, were played over the recent international window. The results and standings are as follows:
|OpponentsCanada vs Honduras||Date/VenueSeptember 3rd / BMO Field, Toronto, Canada||Results1 - 1|
|OpponentsPanama vs Costa Rica||Date/VenueSeptember 3rd / Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama||Results0 - 0|
|OpponentsMexico vs Jamaica||Date/VenueSeptember 3rd / Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico||Results2 - 1|
|OpponentsEl Salvador vs USA||Date/VenueSeptember 3rd / Estadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador, El Salvador||Results0 - 0|
|OpponentsJamaica vs Panama||Date/VenueSeptember 6th / National Stadium Independence Park, Jamaica||Results0 - 3|
|OpponentsCosta Rica vs Mexico||Date/VenueSeptember 6th / Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica||Results0 - 1|
|OpponentsEl Salvador vs Honduras||Date/VenueSeptember 6th / Estadio Cuscatlan, San Salvador, El Salvador||Results0 - 0|
|OpponentsUSA vs Canada||Date/VenueSeptember 6th / Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee, USA||Results1 - 1|
|OpponentsCanada vs El Salvador||Date/VenueSeptember 9th / BMO Field, Toronto, Canada||Results3 - 0|
|OpponentsCosta Rica vs Jamaica||Date/VenueSeptember 9th / Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica||Results1 - 1|
|OpponentsPanama vs Mexico||Date/VenueSeptember 9th / Estadio Rommel Fernandez, Panama City, Panama||Results1 - 1|
|OpponentsHonduras vs USA||Date/VenueSeptember 9th / Olimpico Metropolitano, San Pedro Sula, Honduras||Results1 - 4|
|TeamCosta Rica||Points2||Goal Difference-1|
|TeamEl Salvador||Points2||Goal Difference-3|
Mexico, the continent's top football team and 9th in the world, are one of the favourites to take their place at the 2022 World Cup. As their results from the last week show, the Mexicans, having qualified for the tournament on sixteen previous occasions, are well versed in how difficult the qualifying competition is. Though unbeaten and top of the table, El Tri only took seven of the nine points available and have a goal difference of just two. They won both their opening matches with low score counts - a 2-1 bout against Jamaica at home and a 1-0 clash with Costa Rica away. And only managed a draw with 74th ranked Panama. Despite missing a swathe of European-based players due to COVID restrictions and playing the match away, Jamaica proved a challenge. The Jamaican defence held the Mexicans attacking advance and smothered many of their scoring chances. Against Costa Rica, the Mexican squad were curtailed by the Costa Ricans strong and physical defence tactics and attacking pressure. Again, against Panama, Mexico was shut down repeatedly by the Panamanians' solid defence. As a favourite to win, Mexico will need to pull out all the stops in their upcoming matches against Canada (October 8th), who sit just two points behind them in the standings.
Canada is a rising star on the northern continent. The current squad has risen eleven places to 59th in the world in the last year alone. Having made it to the final of the qualifiers, the team will be keen to advance to the World Cup for the first time in three and a half decades. With two draws in their opening matches of the September window - 1-1 against Honduras and 1-1 against the USA - the team needed a big win in their third match to keep their World Cup dreams on track. The team delivered with a decisive 3-0 victory over El Salvador. Backed by home crowds, they showed their attacking quality and made the most of the chances they created. El Salvador, also on the offensive, found their chances snuffed out by the Canadians' stout defence. With goals from captain Atiba Hutchinson in the 6th, Johnathon David in the 11th and Tajon Buchanan in the 59th, Canada took the maximum three points. And, with Panama holding Mexico to a draw that same evening, the Canadian squad positioned themselves on Mexico's tail for the next window. In October, the bout between Mexico and Canada will be one to watch as both teams vie for the top spot.
The United States of America (USA), 20th ranked, have had a relatively mixed start to their final round campaign. Their opening match against El Salvador resulted in a frustrating goalless draw. On the night, the away game for the Americans was sloppy and plodding. And with a young team inexperienced on the road, The Stars and Stripes struggled against a well-organised El Salvador. At home against Canada, the team fared little better. Despite holding possession most frequently, the Americans couldn't break through the Canadian's solid backline to create enough opportunities to score more than once. However, after a choppy first half against Honduras, changes to the formation (from new to well-drilled) and some excellent substitutions turned a disjointed match into a cohesive display. The result, four superb goals, including a debut goal and several assists for 18-year-old Ricardo Pepi. With a tried and tested formation and a lineup that performed such a stark turnaround in fortunes, the USA's next matches against Jamaica and Panama should yield better results and could take the squad into a much more comfortable second place.
Panama sits in fourth place on the table on five points, just below Canada and the USA. Their opening 0-0 match against Costa Rica was nothing to write home about. The team held possession well but failed to convert their many opportunities. The game against Jamaica was much more promising. The Panamanian squad were on the offensive from the starting whistle. They netted three winners off of the boots of Andres Andrade in the 14th, Rolando Blackburn in the 39th and Cecilio Waterman in the 82nd. Up against Mexico, Los Canaleros held one of the world's top ten teams to a 1-1 draw, halting their 100% record in this phase of the tournament. Pamana were the strongest team on the field that day, and their solid defence left the Mexicans frustrated. Panama needs to maximise their current position in the following October games against El Salvador and the USA. They will need to push their attack up the field to maintain their place in the top four.
Costa Rica has two draws and a loss under their belt after the first phase of the tournament. They sit in fifth place on just two points. On the field against Panama, the Costa Ricans couldn't seem to create any worthwhile chances. However, the team's goalkeeper Keylor Navas put up a good fight between the sticks, saving several Panamanian attempts. Neither side managed to score. The match against Mexico saw a much-improved performance. Los Ticos matched Mexico for time on the ball, and their aggressive offensive yielded plenty of turnovers. Unfortunately, the advantages were not converted to points on the scoreboard. Mexico left the field with a 1-0 win. In their final match of the opening phase, Costa Rica took on Jamaica. Within three minutes, Costa Rica's Jimmy Marin had opened the scoring with a header into the back of the opposition's net. The Costa Ricans couldn't capitalise despite multiple opportunities, and Jamaica equalised for a draw in the 47th minute. Going into the next window, Costa Rica will need to beat Honduras and El Salvador (both on two points) to maintain any chance of qualifying.
Honduras also ended the September window with two draws and a loss for their efforts. The Hondurans frustrated Canada in their first match of the campaign. Honduras kept a fast-paced tempo and presented a solid backline against the Canadians, scoring the game's first goal. Canada's Cyle Larin broke through in the 66th minute to equalise, but Honduras held Canada until the end. Against El Salvador, the Hondurans fought a tough attacking side. Both teams took aim at the opposition's goal on multiple occasions, but despite the chances they created, the game ended fruitlessly. The team's hopes of making up points against the USA were well and truly battered on the final day. Though Los Catrachos' Brayan Maya netted the first goal of the match in the 27th minute, the celebrations didn't last long. Well-timed changes by the USA's coach Greg Berhalter gave the Americans an injection of life that resulted in four goals that blew the Honduran team out of the water. After the defeat, Honduras will need to pick themselves up to take on Costa Rica and top dogs Mexico in October.
El Salvador’s first two matches of the event yielded no goals from either side. Neither the USA nor Honduras could break through the Salvadorian defence, but equally, La Selecta failed to pick up any points. The team's head-to-head against Canada should have ended more productively. The Canadians were missing their star players Alphonso Davis and Cyle Larin, and, though playing away, Salvadorians held the most possession, presented a weighty defence and an intimidating offensive strategy. Nonetheless, the Canadians pushed forward their attack, smothered the Salvadorian defence and found the back of the net on three occasions. El Salvador failed to convert any of their chances. To rise up the standings in October, El Salvador will have to do more than just defend.
Jamaica is at the bottom of the table on one point, which they managed to secure in their final match of the openers in a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica. Earlier games against Mexico and Panama yielded no points for the team. To Mexico, the Reggae Boyz lost 1-2. However, the match was well fought and challenged their opponents. The Jamaican team played some good football. However, against Panama, Jamaica struggled to keep the ball, made mistakes on the counter-attack and left holes in their defence that Panama exploited to win 3-0. The match against Costa Rica was a must-win for the Jamaicans to end the window off the blocks. Fortunately, Jamaica proved the better team and scored an all-important equaliser 47 minutes into the game. Up against the USA and Canada in October, the Jamaicans will have their work cut out.
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