• Qualification in sight for Mexico
  • USA and Costa Rica vying to solidify automatic qualification spots
  • Four matchdays remain in the Hexagonal round

The headline going into the seventh matchday of Round 5 of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying in CONCACAF is that Mexico is on the brink of reaching the tournament for the seventh consecutive time. 

Elsewhere, perennial qualifiers Costa Rica and USA will be playing to strengthen their respective positions on the table as both sides look to book a place to Russia 2018 without having to go through an intercontinental play-off.

The match 
Mexico-Panama, Mexico City 
Hexagonal leaders Mexico can book their ticket to Russia next year with victory against Panama, provided Honduras fail to win in Trinidad and Tobago. Motivated after missing out on Brazil 2014 in dramatic and heartbreaking circumstances, Panama will walk out at the Estadio Azteca with belief.

Defender Adolfo Machado said as much to the Panamanian press: “Mexicans are living off history, they think they are the last Coca-Cola in the desert. They have to understand that all has changed. Panama has developed a lot. Mexico is a great team, but it isn’t invincible. We’ve scored on them and given them good games in the Azteca and we’re going with the idea of picking up a good result.”

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio will look to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Hirving Lozano and Jesus “Tecatito” Corono to bring their fine European club form - playing for West Ham United, PSV Eindhoven and Porto respectively - as El Tri seek to continue an almost flawless Round 5 campaign. The odds are stacked in their favour. Not only will they be playing in front of their home crowd, but Panama has yet to beat Mexico in a World Cup qualifier.

The other attractions 
Costa Rica have the chance to build a six-point gap between themselves in second and their opponents when they travel to New Jersey to face USA. La Sele head coach Oscar Ramirez and his side will be facing a different looking Stars and Stripes team to the one they demolished 4-0 in San Jose last November. USA are now led by veteran coach Bruce Arena after Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked mere days after that demoralising defeat.

So far during Arena’s tenure in World Cup qualifying, USA defeated both Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago with ease on home soil, while grinding out two draws away to Panama and Mexico. USA will also have a slight mental edge at Red Bull Arena having beaten Costa Rica in the semi-finals of the recent CONACACAF Gold Cup.

Down in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras meet in shaping as a must-win match for both sides if they are to keep their qualification dreams alive. The ‘must-win’ tag can be used more so for head coach Dennis Lawrence’s side as Trinidad and Tobago sit at the bottom of the table and have failed to pick up a single point in their last three qualification matches. The importance of the match will not be lost on Jose Luis Pinto and his side either as their only win of the Hexagonal round came against Trinidad and Tobago last November. 

Player to watch
Eighteen-year-old USA midfielder Christian Pulisic burst on to the international scene late last year and has been productive ever since. Pulisic has looked bright in Borussia Dortmund’s first two Bundesliga matches, scoring a goal and providing an assist, and in his last five matches for the Stars and Stripes, he has either scored or assisted in seven of the team’s 11 goals.

What they said 
"We've had a couple of World Cup cycles in which we've suffered a lot and this time we can do it in a less fraught way, without as much pressure and that's something to appreciate.” Andres Guardado, Mexico midfielder

Matchday 7 fixtures 
1 September 
USA-Costa Rica 
Trinidad and Tobago-Honduras 
Mexico-Panama