*THE DAY REPLAYED – *USA and Honduras both stamped their tickets on Tuesday night to complete the field for CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying for Russia 2018. They join Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Panama in the six-team Hexagonal that kicks off in November.
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Match of the day
USA 4-0 Trinidad and Tobago
Sacha Kljestan 44, Jozy Altidore 59, 63, Paul Arriola 71
USA’s semi-final group campaign was anything but straight-forward, with a loss to Guatemala and a draw on the road to Trinidad and Tobago. But even though they left it late to book their ticket to the Hex, the Americans finished top of their section for the sixth straight time and in some considerable style. Outstanding New York Red Bulls playmaker Sacha Kljestan, in his first start since 2014, opened the scoring just before the interval. Jozy Altidore then nabbed his 15th and 16th goals in qualifying history. Youngster Paul Arriola rounded off the scoring to see the Stars and Stripes through on top of Group C and in high spirits ahead of the final round, which they’ll begin with a mouth-watering clash against arch-rivals Mexico. **
The other game in Group C saw Guatemala hand St. Vincent and the Grenadines their sixth straight loss of the campaign in a game where defence was clearly optional. But the goal-littered 9-3 result, inspired by five goals from evergreen ace Carlos Ruiz, still wasn’t enough to see the Central Americans through to the Hexagonal.
Top spot was all there was to play for in *Group B, and Costa Rica claimed it with a resounding 3-1 win over Panama in San Jose. The goals came via Christian Bolanos (2) and Ronaldo Matarrita. The Brazil 2014 quarter-finalists were in sizzling form throughout the semi-final round, picking up 16 points from their six matches and they rank among the favourites to reach all the way to Russia.* **
Over in Kingston, the Reggae Boyz capped a disappointing campaign in modest fashion, losing out 2-0 to Haiti who earned their first win of the semi-final stage. The overall feeling in Jamaica will be bitter disappointment as last year’s runners-up at the CONCACAF Gold Cup were unable to recreate the form of that dazzling run and tumble out earlier than anyone expected.
Over in *Group A *Canada managed to beat El Salvador 3-1 at home in Vancouver, but it wasn’t enough to see them sneak through to the final round. Honduras, instead, round out the final six-team field after a goalless draw against already qualified Mexico at the Azteca.
Player of the day
Carlos Ruiz (GUA)
A legend in the CONCACAF region, the man known as the Little Fish rounded out his international career doing what he does best: Putting the ball in the back of the net. Grabbing no less than five goals in a huge win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the striker called time on his national-team days in inimitable fashion. He’s Guatemala's all-time top scorer (68) as well as the top-scorer in CONCACAF qualifying history (39). With a career spanning 132 caps, Carlos Ruiz’s name is sure to ring out for generations to come.
17 *– At 17 years and 353 days old, Christian Pulisic became the youngest player to start a match for USA in World Cup qualifying. After scoring twice last week against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he couldn’t match the feat in Florida. But the Pennsylvania-born, Borussia Dortmund-based phenom did manage to hit both posts with one shot as the Americans won their group.
Did you know?
Juan Carlos Osorio’s Mexico were booed off at the Estadio Azteca after a 0-0 draw with Honduras. This, despite the fact that El Tri were the first team to qualify for the Hex after going undefeated in their six qualifying games, scoring 13 goals and conceding just once. You can go ahead and rank the Mexican fans among the world’s most demanding.
What they said
“We have a huge opportunity to start the Hexagonal with two of our biggest games and biggest rivals. With that we have a chance to send out a strong signal.” *USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann on opening the final round of qualifying with tough tests against Mexico and Costa Rica. *
Results (Round Four, Matchday 6)
Canada 3-1 El Salvador
Mexico 0-0 Honduras
Costa Rica 3-1 Panama
Jamaica 0-2 Haiti
Guatemala 9-3 St. Vincent and the Grenadines
USA 4-0 Trinidad and Tobago
CONCACAF Hexagonal field (11 November 2016 - 10 October 2017)
Trinidad and Tobago