Two of CONCACAF’s three and a half spots in Russia next summer are claimed, and the race is on for that final automatic place and a date with either Australia or Syria in a last-chance playoff for finishing fourth.
Costa Rica and Mexico are in for sure, and, as the U.S. Men’s National Team looks to brush Trinidad and Tobago aside to earn the third qualifying spot, two more matches with implications for that crucial fourth place position will go down.
Panama and Honduras each sit at ten points in a tie for fourth place. Panama holds the advantage thanks to their -2 goal difference, compared to Honduras’s -7. They both sit a pair of points behind the third place Americans.
They each face difficult home challenges as they wrap up their qualifying campaign, with a fourth, or even third, place finish still in sight.
Here’s a look at those two crucial games:
PANAMA VS. COSTA RICA- 8 P.M., BEIN SPORTS CONNECT
Panama will have to recover from the humbling they experienced at the hands of the USMNT. The loss wasn’t very damaging to their chances to finish fourth, but third place is now out of their hands, as they require a USMNT loss to get there. They are going to need a strong performance in this final round if they want to avoid the same disappointment they experienced at this point four years ago, when the USMNT scored twice in stoppage time to eliminate them from contention.
They will conclude their qualifying campaign with a difficult, but winnable, match with second place Costa Rica at home. Los Ticos needed a late, late winner from a defender to salvage a qualification clinching point on their home turf against Honduras, so they are certainly beatable when they leave their homeland.
Nothing less than a win will do for Los Canaleros with Honduras level with them at ten points in the table. With a victory here they get fourth place, and they can even hope for a USMNT slip up, thus earning automatic qualification.
HONDURAS VS. MEXICO- 8 P.M., BEIN SPORTS CONNECT
Honduras is in a similar situation to Panama above. They come into a big home match against a difficult, but still beatable, opponent, needing all three points to have a shot at a trip to Russia next summer.
Los Catrachos will face a Mexico side that struggled for 75 minutes against Trinidad and Tobago on home soil on Friday before scoring thrice in the final 12 minutes to pull of the win. All the while they battled Costa Rica in hostile territory for 95 minutes before conceding a gut wrenching equalizer in the dying seconds.
Despite that, Honduras will still need to bring their A+ game when El Tri come to town on Tuesday night. They got thrashed, 3-0, when they played back in June, but that was in Mexico against a team that was still fighting for qualification. Honduras is about as CONCACAF as CONCACAF gets in terms of hostile environments. If anything works in their advantage, it’s the rough weather, the passionate fans, and the less than ideal pitch conditions.
But even a full three points may not be enough for Honduras. Unless they come up with some sort of unlikely beat down, they will need Panama and/or the USMNT to drop points in order to get themselves a shot at the World Cup.