- *Costa Rica in touching distance, Panama aiming for historic win *
- Los Ticos' match postponed until Saturday due to tropical storms
- Honduras and USA with no margin for error
With just two matchdays left in the CONCACAF qualifiers, Costa Rica and Panama can seal their place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ this weekend.
Los Ticos’ fate is in their own hands: either a win or a draw against Honduras would be enough for them to secure second spot in the group behind Mexico. Even if they lose, if the USA-Panama match ends all square then qualification would be guaranteed regardless.
Meanwhile, if Panama want to wrap up qualification with a game to spare, they’ll need to beat USA, while also relying on neighbours Costa Rica getting three points in their clash with Honduras.
* Costa Rica-Honduras
Costa Rica-Honduras, Estadio Nacional de San Jose, 16:00 (local time)
This match had been due to take place on the same date as the others but tropical storms forced its postponement. Now, the drama will take place on Saturday afternoon rather than Friday evening, and a thrilling contest looks to be in store.
Last time out, Costa Rica just needed to beat Mexico at home to secure their place at next year’s World Cup. And though unable to do so, the qualification permutations have now changed in the group, and just a point against Honduras would see them reach Russia 2018.
On the other hand, Honduras need all three points to keep their qualification hopes alive, which all but guarantees a thrilling encounter. Put simply, if *Los Catrachos *leave San Jose empty handed, they will no longer be in control of their World Cup destiny.
One of the strong points of this Costa Rica side is the understanding between the players. This current crop have racked up considerable experience together and know each other’s games inside-out. In addition, striker Marco Urena is enjoying a fine run of form, netting his side’s last three goals.
Their opponents Honduras go into this match boosted by their encouraging draw against USA and the blistering starts they have been making of late. In their last two matches, they have scored three times in the first half an hour of the game.
The shirt that makes us battle and dream #goCostaRica #Russia2018
The other attractions
Just as captivating this Friday will be events in Orlando. If Panama manage to beat USA on American soil for the first time in a World Cup qualifier and other results go for them, they would make history by reaching FIFA’s flagship event for the first time.
USA, on nine points and just one place and point behind Los Canaleros, will be desperate for a return to winning ways, having failed to muster a victory in their last three matches.
Bruce Arena’s side will be backed by unwavering home support, but are facing a very determined opponent, who will be looking to their customary physical game to gain the upper hand.
Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Osorio’s Mexico, who have already qualified, have another chance to fine-tune their performance ahead of Russia 2018. Their opponents Trinidad & Tobago are already out of the running and will be looking to make a fresh start with a view towards Qatar 2022.
Player to watch
Gabriel Torres (Panama)
In taking things one game at a time, Panama’s sole objective now is to beat USA for the first time on their own turf in this competition. Hernan “Bolillo” Gomez’s men know that there is no secret formula to achieving this, and that it is simply a matter of scoring. Tasked with the responsibility is 28-year-old Gabriel Torres. Against a resolute American side, his mobility, creativity and graft will be key to his side, giving them a different dimension when it comes to trying to break down the Americans.
What they said
"Panama are going to play defensively. They’ve had a great qualifying campaign. We have a lot of respect for them and we hold them in high regard. It’s an important game, there’s no doubt about it. I think we’ll have a lot of support in the stadium, so it should be a good evening."
Bruce Arena, USA coach.