Jamaica needed a last-gasp goal in Managua to edge past Nicaragua and avoid ignominious elimination at the first hurdle on their road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. The CONCACAF Gold Cup runners-up can now breathe a nervy sigh of relief as they join rampant Haiti, El Salvador, Canada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Guatemala, along with big boys Mexico, USA and Costa Rica, in the region’s first group stages.

Results (Aggregate over two legs)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 3-2 Aruba
Grenada 1-6 Haiti
Curacao 0-2 El Salvador
Canada 4-1 Belize
Jamaica 4-3 Nicaragua
Antigua and Barbuda 1-2 Guatemala

The highlights
Reggae Boyz
rebound
Just weeks after beating USA and reaching their first-ever Gold Cup final, Jamaica only barely avoided being bounced out of World Cup qualifying at the first hurdle. They lost the first leg of their third-round series to Central American minnows Nicaragua in Kingston last week. The poor result required a goal from Simon Dawkins deep into stoppage time in the return fixture in Managua to eke out the result. It was a close-run thing, and coach Winfried Schaefer will do well to re-call missing Gold Cup heroes Wes Morgan, Jobi McAnuff and Giles Barnes for the fourth-round group fixtures to come.

Belize’s goal-king dethroned
Deon McCauley finished shock top-scorer in the global qualifiers for Brazil 2014, edging out the likes of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. But the Belizean goal hero – his nation’s all-time top-scorer – won’t repeat the feat this time around. His Central American strivers were overwhelmed by Canada 4-1 over two legs, but McCauley’s three goals in four games is still an achievement worth noting, even if it is a long way off his haul of 11 during the Brazil 2014 campaign.

Resurrected Aruba go down again
Dutch-speaking island side Aruba have the dubious distinction of being the only team to lose twice in the single-elimination portion of the CONCACAF qualifiers. They were given a new lease of life after losing in the previous round, booking passage on a technicality after Barbados fielded an ineligible player. With a new head coach in the hot seat, the islanders very nearly made the most of their unexpected resurrection. Danso scored twice in Oranjestad to draw scores level at 2-2. But with the momentum going their way, Aruban hearts were broken six minutes from time when Tevin Slater scored his second of the series to send St. Vincent and the Grenadines through and make himself top-scorer in the zone with five goals.

Player of the round – Duckens Nazon (Haiti)
A little over a year ago, Haitian sensation Duckens Nazon was toiling away in the amateur ranks of French football. He even considered giving up on the game altogether. Now, though, the 21-year-old’s star is on the rise. The Paris-born striker had a CONCACAF Gold Cup to remember, helping Haiti beat Honduras en route to the knockout rounds. And he’s had a hot start to Russia 2018 qualifying too, scoring in both legs and dominating attack in the rout of Caribbean neighbours Grenada. Smooth on the ball, speedy and powerful, Duckens’ move to the relative big-time of Laval B in France’s Ligue 2 doesn’t seem to have damaged his hunger for goals.

The number
10 -
The number of goals scored by Canada in their four Russia 2018 qualifying games. Six against Dominica and four in Round Three against Belize means they are averaging 2.5 goals per game. It’s a fair bit better than their dreadful record at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they went three games, almost 300 minutes of football, without finding the net. Coach Benito Floro will also be pleased with his side’s defensive numbers. The Canucks have conceded only once in those four games.

What they said
“We’re happy to be moving on. We knew we had to keep the ball as much as possible away from home. We knew that at the start. Belize have a good counter-attack and a very dangerous player in their No9 so we had to be careful.” Canada coach Benito Floro, formerly boss of Real Madrid, is pleased to move on and he pays Belize’s goal hero McCaulay homage in the bargain.

Fourth-round group stages
Group A
Mexico
Honduras
El Salvador
Canada

Group B
Costa Rica
Panama
Haiti
Jamaica

Group C
USA
Trinidad and Tobago
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Guatemala

*The fourth-round group stages will be played from November 2015 to September 2016.