Wednesday 23 March 2022, 19:00

Canada on the cusp as Mexico-USA takes top billing

  • Mexico host USA in a match that could end in qualification for one of them

  • Canada visit Costa Rica with sights set on sealing their place in Qatar

  • Panama go into the final three matchdays determined to keep their dream alive

The Concacaf qualifying competition for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ has been gripping to say the least, and with three matchdays to go there is still plenty of suspense in store. On the bill over the next week is a potentially decisive meeting between old rivals Mexico and USA, the possible return of Canada to the world finals after a 36-year absence, and a riveting race for the intercontinental play-off place. Five teams are still in the running for the three automatic qualification places, while one will go into the intercontinental play-off against an OFC nation in June.

Costa Rica1425+5
El Salvador1410-10


24 March 2022 Jamaica-El Salvador Mexico-USA Costa Rica-Canada Panama-Honduras 27 March 2022 El Salvador-Costa Rica Canada-Jamaica Honduras-Mexico USA-Panama 30 March 2022 Costa Rica-USA Mexico-El Salvador Jamaica-Honduras Panama-Canada

Arch-rivals set for Azteca showdown

Mexico host USA at the Estadio Azteca on the first matchday, with much more than pride at stake. The two Concacaf sides with most World Cup appearances to their names lie joint-second in the table on 21 points, and the winner of their latest meeting will be virtually assured a trip to Qatar in November. The stakes could not be higher, not least for Mexico, who go into the game having suffered three consecutive defeats in the fixture. Gerardo Martino’s side’s last victory against USA came in a September 2019 friendly in New Jersey. El Tri fans are desperate for a home win, though they have not seen their side overcome the Stars and Stripes in the Mexican capital since a 2-1 triumph in 2009. Three years later, USA recorded their only ever victory at the Azteca thanks to a solitary Michael Orozco goal, with the two rivals playing out two draws in Mexico City thereafter. Following their Azteca trip, USA will face two qualification contenders: Panama at home and Costa Rica away. Meanwhile, Mexico will take on two sides whose hopes have long since evaporated: Honduras away and El Salvador at home.

Canada on the verge

Canada are the only unbeaten side in the final phase of the Concacaf qualifiers, a marked improvement on their last World Cup qualification bid, when they failed to make this stage of the competition. The dramatic upturn in their fortunes is down to the emergence of quality players such as Alphonso Davies and the skill of coach John Herdman in putting together a side capable of dominating the regional scene. The Canadians need just one more win to return to the big stage, though their run-in begins with a tough assignment away to a Costa Rica side in urgent need of three points. Present at four of the last five World Cups, Los Ticos lie fifth and out of the qualifying positions. After making a poor start to the final phase, they are now unbeaten in four, however, and are hopeful of continuing that run and booking the play-off place at the very least. Costa Rica will round off their campaign away to already eliminated El Salvador and at home to USA. For their part, Canada host Jamaica and then travel to Panama. Should the Canucks clinch qualification, it will cap a remarkable journey for a country where the game is growing at a dizzying speed.

Panama with work to do

Panama took everyone by surprise with their qualification for Russia 2018. Some of the veterans from that adventure are now key members of Thomas Christiansen’s squad, namely Michael Murillo, Fidel Escobar, Roman Torres, Armando Cooper and Edgar Barcenas, who carry the hopes of a nation with designs on another World Cup participation. The Panamanians have little margin for error, however. Currently fourth on 17 points, they lie one clear of Costa Rica. If they are to hang on to the play-off place, Los Canaleros need to pick up their form, having won just one of their last three games. Next for them is a home game with winless Honduras, who lie bottom of the table and out of the reckoning. Win that and Panama can look forward with more confidence to their final two outings: away to USA and at home to Canada.

What they said

“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got. We’ve got players who can handle the pressure and we have no option but to win. We can manage the situation. The players know what they’ve got to do and they believe they can qualify direct for the world finals.” Panama coach Thomas Christiansen

Did you know?

Canada have qualified for the World Cup only once before, at Mexico 1986, when they went out early after losing all three of their games in Group C without scoring a goal. The Canucks' fortunes have changed completely in this campaign. The only unbeaten side in the Concacaf qualifiers, they have won 13 of their 17 games to date and drawn the other four. Panama are aiming to appear at consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history, while Costa Rica are hoping to make it an unprecedented three in a row.

The stats

4 Canada’s Milan Borjan has conceded only four goals in the 12 matches he has played thus far on the road to Qatar 2022, fewer than any other goalkeeper appearing in more than three games in Concacaf qualifying. 5 Canada forward Jonathan David has scored five goals and provided three assists in the final phase of the Concacaf preliminaries, more than anyone else in the region. He has had a direct hand in 42 per cent of his team’s 19 goals. 990 Panama’s Fidel Escobar is the only outfield player to have spent every minute on the pitch in the Octagonal. The defender has started every one of his side’s matches and ended them too.