- *USA and Mexico win on penultimate Hexagonal matchday *
- *Missed opportunity for Panama as USA move closer to Russia 2018 *
- Costa Rica’s match against Honduras postponed
A typically dramatic matchday in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying in the CONCACAF region has finally seen just a little bit of daylight appear in hitherto congested standings. It was USA who were the big victors as they belatedly rediscovered form to rout Panama 4-0 in a classic ‘six-pointer’.
Mexico underlined their status as Hexagonal frontrunners with a 3-1 comeback win over Trinidad and Tobago later on Friday. There was drama of sorts in San Jose too even though no football was played. Tropical Storm Nate forced the postponement of Costa Rica’s home contest against Honduras, with the match to now take place on Saturday.
The big match
A finely-balanced and tense contest loomed in Orlando, with Panama – seeking a first-ever ticket to the World Cup - a point clear of the home side as they lined up for one of the biggest matches in their history. Boasting a stunning defensive record, Panama knew that victory would mean taking a giant step towards qualification. They had reason for confidence. USA had endured a shocking run of form of late, accruing just two wins from eight starts during the round. The scoreline, however, was as one-sided as it was unexpected.
Thanks largely to the dynamic attacking play of teenage star Christian Pulisic, the Stars and Stripes opened with a confidence not seen for some time. Pulisic netted an impressive opener, and then set up Jozy Altidore for a second. By half-time it was three thanks to Altidore’s cheeky Panenka conversion from the penalty spot. Bobby Wood added a fourth after the break for a result that puts USA’s destiny firmly back in their owns hands ahead of Tuesday’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago, as the Stars and Stripes chase an eighth successive World Cup qualification.
*The other match *
Little was riding on the contest between already-qualified group leaders Mexico and bottom side Trinidad and Tobago in terms of the standings. Playing a rare match away from the fabled Azteca in Mexico City, there were emotional scenes pre-match in San Luis Potosi with a minute’s silence following the recent tragic earthquakes to hit Mexico. While *El Tri *dominated the contest, it was T&T who took the lead midway through the second half through Mexico-based winger Shahdon Winchester. However, Mexico equalised with 12 minutes remaining through Hirving Lozano and then added to their tally with further goals either side of the 90-minute mark.
He has yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, but USA’s Christian Pulisic has already displayed enough quality to prove he is an undeniable star in the making. Pulisic’s smart early goal set the tone for the Stars and Stripes, and was soon followed by a perfect assist for Altidore to double the advantage.
The stat 18 – With two goals against Panama striker Jozy Altidore equalled Clint Dempsey’s all-time USA World Cup qualifying tally of 18.