The final matchday of CONCACAF’s semi-final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ is upon us. Only two spots remain in the final group, known around the region as the Hexagonal, with Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago already booking their places in the six-team round robin.
USA and Honduras are the likeliest candidates to join the quartet in the Hex, but neither of these powers are home and dry yet. Join FIFA.com as we preview what promises to be a tense night in the New World.
The big game
USA-Trinidad and Tobago
USA welcome the already qualified Soca Warriors to central Florida, hoping to do what centre-back Geoff Cameron has been calling for all along. “We want to win this group and the only way you do that is by winning games,” he said. The Americans are coming off an easy 6-0 win in the Caribbean against Group C whipping boys St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but Trinidad and Tobago represent a far sterner challenge. “I truly believe we will beat the US and win the group,” said T&T’s wide man Kevin Molina, who has a home just up the road where he plays for MLS side Orlando City.
The road to the Hex has had its share of bumps for Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA, who could only draw with T&T on the road in Port of Spain and managed to lose in Guatemala. So if the Stars and Stripes (10 points) lose and Guatemala (7) beat leaky St. Vincent by enough goals to make up the huge gap in goal difference, the USA could possibly miss out on the world finals for the first time since 1986. That said, a win would see them claim top spot the group. A draw would see them through too and so could the right kind of loss.
Group A is similarly tense. Canada failed to get a result on the road against Honduras on Friday, leaving them in third place. They’ll have to win convincingly at home against El Salvador on Tuesday and hope Honduras don’t draw or beat already qualified Mexico at the Azteca. A slim loss could also take Honduras through at Canada’s expense if the Canucks fail to win and make up their -5 goal difference.
Considering all of the tension in the other two sections, Group B looks like a stroll in the park at sunset. Costa Rica (13) meet Panama (10) in San Jose with first place up for grabs, but both having qualified already for the final round. In the other game, in Kingston, Jamaica and Haiti meet with only pride on the line.
Player to watch
Carlos Ruiz (GUA)
At 36, Ruiz’s quickest days are behind him. And though he’s a step or two slower, the former LA Galaxy ace still knows how to the put the ball in the back of the net. He nabbed a pair of goals on Friday in Trinidad and Tobago to help his side earn the 2-2 draw that keeps them alive with a chance to reach the Hex. They were his 62nd and 63rd goals in international football, not only confirming the Little Fish’s status as Guatemala’s top all-time scorer – a title not likely to be challenged for generations to come – but it also makes him top-scorer in the world among active national team players, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. With Guatemala needing a bagful of goals against St. Vincent – who’ve conceded 25 in five games – Ruiz is likely to add to that tally on Tuesday.
Did you know?
Trinidad and Tobago have a score to settle against USA. On 19 November 1989, the US national team travelled to Port of Spain as underdogs in qualifying. T&T needed only a draw to reach their first-ever World Cup and the fans in the stands and the stars on the pitch – including a young Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy – were oozing confidence. But they had their hearts broken when Paul Caligiuri scored what Americans now refer to as the 'Shot heard ‘round the world', a looping volley from distance that sent the States to their first World Cup for 40 years and forced T&T to miss out. That pain still lingers in Trinidadian hearts and they have a chance on Tuesday to do their part in sending USA out of contention for Russia 2018, however unlikely that scenario may be.
What they said
“The No10 shirt has meaning. Ask him now how he feels now with that heavy number weighing on his back.” USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann gave young star Christian Pulisic the iconic No10 jersey at just 17 years of age. He wore it well on Friday, too, with a pair of goals to become USA’s youngest-ever scorer in World Cup qualifying.
Fixtures (Round Four, Matchday 6)
Tuesday 6 September
Guatemala-St. Vincent and the Grenadines
USA-Trinidad and Tobago