There are only two matchdays left in CONCACAF qualifying for next year’s FIFA World Cup™. And with USA and Costa Rica already assured of two out of three automatic berths to Brazil 2014, struggling Mexico – who haven’t won in their last four games – are in a desperate bid to avoid missing out on the global showpiece for the first time since 1990. FIFA.com takes a look ahead to Friday’s penultimate showdowns in the region.
The big game
Usually a date against relative minnows Panama at home at the Estadio Azteca would be a guaranteed three points for El Tri. But these are not ordinary times. The Mexicans have lost their last two games on the trot, including a 2-0 humbling by arch-rivals USA and an ignominious defeat to Honduras at their spiritual home in Mexico City. Now under Victor Manuel Vucetich – Mexico’s third coach of the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign – the 14-time World Cup participants need a win to keep alive their slim hopes of securing the last direct qualifying berth or, short of that, an inter-continental play-off with New Zealand.
The new coach has, predictably, shaken up the side, turning to new men like Argentinian-born playmaker Lucas Lobos, and recalling exiled goalkeeper Guillermo Memo Ochoa, plus aging icon Rafa Marquez. The former Monterrey boss, known as King Midas for his golden touch at club level, stopped short of recalling Carlos Vela, who had a falling out with previous bosses but is playing brilliantly in La Liga with Real Sociedad. Also, Andres Guardado will not play after being left out for “tactical reasons.”
Fans at the Azteca will be hoping for more from Javier Chicharito Hernandez, who has yet to score in qualifying. Gio dos Santos has been a rare bright spot in the side, but he will need some help if the Mexicans are to dig themselves out of their hole. A first win at Azteca, where they’ve drawn three times and lost once so far, would be a step in the right direction.
Panama, under coach Julio Dely Valdes, will be no pushovers though. They are tied with Mexico on eight points and the siren song of reaching their first World Cup finals has the Canaleros’ spirits soaring. Their two wins over Mexico in this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup will also help matters. “We can get a result if we do things right,” high-flying defender Roberto Chen told FIFA.com. “Honduras have shown us that Mexico can be beaten at home.”
The other big game in the region pits Honduras against Costa Rica in an all-Central American grudge match. The Hondurans, in third place with three more points than Mexico and Panama, can claim the third and final direct qualifying ticket to Brazil should they take all three points at home against a Tico side that might take their foot off the gas with their qualification already sealed. In addition to a win, the Catrachos would also need Panama and Mexico to draw to make sure of their place with one game to go.
Friday’s third game sees top take on bottom as the sparkling USA, having already booked their passage to a seventh straight World Cup, host strugglers Jamaica in Kansas City. US coach Jurgen Klinsmann named a strong squad, though he will have to do without the services of injured Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey. And while Jamaica are still alive mathematically, their chances of stealing a place in the play-off are just about slim to none. “We have no choice but to win,” their coach Winfried Schaefer said, knowing full well the Reggae Boyz haven’t managed a victory in their previous eight games.
“We need to match Jamaica’s energy early in the game, because they have no choice but to go all out,” Kyle Beckerman, USA’s deputy for ailing Roma middle-man Bradley, told FIFA.com. “If we can do that, we should be able to get the win.”
What they’re saying
“We’ll try to win for the fans. We know we’ve not been performing well, but we’ll run ourselves into the ground to make amends. Hopefully, we’ll feel unconditional support from the Azteca too.” Guillermo MemoOchoa is back in the Mexican squad, and he used FIFA.com to make a promise to the nerve-shredded El Tri fans ahead of their must-win clash against Panama.
CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 9
1. USA (16 points - Qualified)
2. Costa Rica (15 - Qualified)
3. Honduras (11)
4. Panama (8)
5. Mexico (8)
6. Jamaica (4)
Have your say
Can Mexico find their way back from the brink and win their first Hexagonal game at their Estadio Azteca, or will Panama shock them? Can Jamaica keep up the impossible dream, or will their hopes die in Kansas City? Click ‘add your comment’ and let us know what you think.