- *Mexico looking to stay top and remain unbeaten *
- USA out to build on recent upturn
- Costa Rica and Panama fighting for top spots
With only four points separating the teams in second and sixth in the six-team final phase, the CONCACAF qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ has reached an exciting stage.
The Hexagonal will reach the halfway stage with this Thursday’s three matches, with unbeaten Mexico leading the section on ten points and time running out in the race to claim a place at the world finals.
*The big match *After losing their opening two matches, USA look to have got back on track. Currently on four points, Bruce Arena’s men now come up against a Trinidad and Tobago side in urgent need of points after slipping to the bottom of the table.
The Stars and Stripes* *will have two relatively unfamiliar faces in the midfield in Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta, who have both been in fine form in MLS. The experienced McCarty has been around a long time on the domestic scene, while the young Acosta has a big future ahead of him. Both will bring fresh energy and a whole new dynamic to the USA engine room for what is a crucial match.
The Soca Warriors will need all their mental strength to hold off the hosts, but will be aware that a win will lift them off the bottom and right into contention for a place at Russia 2018.
*Elsewhere *While Mexico have moved to within touching distance of qualifying, they know they cannot afford to ease off at this stage. Opponents Honduras, who lie fifth in the table, need to get some points together quickly, and what better place to do that than at the legendary Estadio Azteca?
Second-placed Costa Rica will look to stay on Mexico’s trail and hope to capitalise, should the leaders slip up. Facing them at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose will be a Panama outfit that is making the most of its defensive strengths. Though Los Canaleros have scored just twice in the final phase so far, they occupy the third and final direct qualification slot on five points.
Player to watch
*Keylor Navas *is on the highest of highs after winning the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid, and with it, a trip to the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017. Recognised as one of the best goalkeepers on the planet, Navas will need to show all his shot-stopping and leadership skills to help guide Costa Rica through their next challenges.
57 - the number of goals that Landon Donovan scored in his USA career, a Stars and Stripes record. Clint Dempsey is within one goal of equalling it and will hope it comes his way in the meeting with Trinidad and Tobago.
(One team, one family: La H family. Keeping our eyes on the objective and sticking together, no matter how hard it might seem)