Mex­ico on the verge of gain­ing early World Cup berth

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Mex­ico has con­trol of its fate and could qual­ify for next year's World Cup with a vic­tory to­mor­row at home against Panama.

Qual­i­fy­ing with three matches still to play would let Mex­ico re­lax with Costa Rica and the United States — and even Panama and Hon­duras — bat­tling for the two re­main­ing au­to­matic berths. A fourth team from the CONCACAF re­gion can also ad­vance in a play­off with the No. 5 team out of Asia.

Only Trinidad and Tobago, which is last in the six-team stand­ings for North and Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean, seems out of the pic­ture.

Through six of 10 matches, Mex­ico has 14 points fol­lowed by Costa Rica (11), United States (8), Panama (7), Hon­duras (5), and Trinidad and Tobago (3).

A quick look at the matches:

MEX­ICO-PANAMA Early qual­i­fi­ca­tion af­ter dis­ap­point­ments this year in the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup and Gold Cup should take some pres­sure off coach Juan Car­los Os­o­rio. Mex­ico has given up only two goals in the last six qual­i­fiers.

The sit­u­a­tion is vastly dif­fer­ent than four years ago when Mex­ico came within sec­onds of fail­ing to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"It's go­ing to be dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated," Mex­ico for­ward Raul Jimenez said. "They are go­ing to play all-out, and we have to keep this in mind."

Panama has never qual­i­fied for the World Cup, and its best shot this time is in the two-game play­off with Asia.

UNITED STATES-COSTA RICA The United States, af­ter los­ing its first two qual­i­fiers un­der coach Jur­gen Klins­mann, has re­bounded with Bruce Arena in charge.

Af­ter the match on Fri­day against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Har­ri­son, New Jersey, the U.S. plays Hon­duras at San Pe­dro Sula on Sept. 5, and then closes against Panama on Oct. 6 at Or­lando, Florida, and at Trinidad four days later.

"It's on us to make sure that we can fin­ish the job and al­low our­selves the chance to look for­ward to play­ing at a World Cup next sum­mer," mid­fielder Michael Bradley said.

Costa Rica's 4-0 bat­ter­ing of the United States on Nov. 15 in San Jose cost Klins­mann his job.

The United States has qual­i­fied for the last seven World Cups.

TRINIDAD-HON­DURAS Hon­duras needs a vic­tory at Port of Spain to stay in con­tention for a play­off spot.

"We're go­ing to give ev­ery­thing in this match," said Hon­duras' Colom­bia-born coach Jorge Luis Pinto. "We have to win."

Hon­duras gave away two points in its last match, los­ing a 2-1 lead in the last minute and set­tling for a 2-2 draw at Panama.

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