Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica – all winners on the road last week – aim to keep up the form this Tuesday as the action heats up in CONCACAF once again. There were fireworks all over the region on the first matchday of the final Hexagonal round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. USA lost a home qualifier for the first time since 1972. Costa Rica silenced the thumping drums at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Trinidad, and Panama sent a message in San Pedro Sula with a win over Honduras.
FIFA.com looks ahead to Tuesday night’s three thrilling contests.
The big game
*USA began their second *Hex running with a loss, this time at home in Ohio against arch-rivals Mexico. Outplayed in the first half, the Americans rebounded with a much better second, but they were on the back foot throughout the contest. Matters will be compounded by the fact that USA have never won a qualifier on the road in Costa Rica, with the confident Ticos beginning their campaign with a simple win in Trinidad and Tobago. The Americans will also have to play without inspirational leader Tim Howard, who suffered a groin injury in the Mexico game and Brad Guzan, his able deputy, is bound to have a busy night with the likes of Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges trying to make it six points from two games.
Panama open their home account by hosting high-flying Mexico, a squad brimming with European-based players and goal-threats aplenty. If Juan Carlos Osorio uses the same starting line-up he did against USA on Friday, Panama’s burly defenders will have their hands full. Giovani dos Santos, Javier Chicharito Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Jesus Tecatito Corona make for a ferocious quartet in Mexico’s attack. The Canaleros, for their part, will be bolstered by Mexico’s loss of injured midfield stalwart Andres Guardado. “If we win all of our home matches, we’re through to the World Cup,” said Panama defender Roman Torrres. One of the biggest challenges they’ll have at their Estadio Rommel Fernandez comes on Tuesday.
Honduras are in the doldrums after losing at home in San Pedro Sula to Panama. Their impatient fans will be hoping for better in another home contest when Trinidad and Tobago come to town. They lacked ideas on Friday and are still without coach Jorge Luis Pinto, serving the last of his four-match ban this week. Neither of the sides in action at the Olimpico have scored yet and will be desperate to get some goals in the net and some points on the board.
Player the Watch**
Jesus Corona (MEX)
*A winger of uncommon talent, Porto-based Corona gave the US defence fits last week with his rampaging runs up the left side. He had Eintracht Frankfurt back Timmy Chandler spinning in circles and his crosses into the box led to opportunity after opportunity for the Mexicans, who have still yet to lose over the course of Russia 2018 qualifying. The 23-year-old from Sonora is blossoming into one of CONCACAF’s true gems and a player to rely on for *El Tri.
*Did you know?
*For the first time in history, Mexico have 13 players in the squad based in Europe. Back-to-front, from Portugal-based Miguel Layun at the back up to Bayer Leverkusen’s Chicharito in attack, the side is brimming with talent forged in the fires of Europe’s top competitions. So impressed with the side is captain Rafa Marquez, a former Barcelona star now back in his native Mexico, that he’s called it: “The best Mexico team I’ve ever been a part of.”
What they said
*“We have to go down there [Costa Rica] and get a result, which we will do. We lost a big one and it’s got us angry. We feel the urgency because you don’t want to be behind. But it’s only the first of ten qualifying games. This is all part of the process. It’s a long road.” *USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants to put the hurt of losing to Mexico in the background and bring the anger down to Costa Rica.
Fixtures (Round Five, Matchday 2)
Honduras-Trinidad & Tobago