Monday 28 March 2022, 03:00

Canada qualify, USA and Mexico on the brink

  • Canadians enjoy historic evening in Toronto

  • Mexico and USA pick up expected wins and now just need one point

  • Costa Rica assured of inter-confederation play-off spot at worst

In the Concacaf qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, the situation has now become much clearer. Whereas a couple of days ago there were still five teams in contention for the three automatic slots, one has since qualified, one has been eliminated from contention, two need just one point to secure their passage to Qatar, and one looks almost certain to be taking part in the inter-confederation play-off.

Costa Rica1425+5
El Salvador1410-10

A 36-year struggle

They say that good things come to those who wait, and Canada's loyal fans have certainly done more than their fair share of waiting. The Canucks have not appeared on football's greatest stage for 36 years, when they lost all of their group matches and failed to score a goal at Mexico 1986. This time around seems a little different, however: a generation of talented youngsters combined with some experienced heads and led by a wily coach have brought Canada back to the forefront of international football. Although qualification was highly likely prior to their home fixture versus Jamaica, the Canadians sealed their momentous World Cup return in emphatic fashion on a freezing evening in Toronto. The -5 degree Celsius temperature did not prevent the home support from wildly celebrating each of the four goals, scored by Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan, Junior Hoilett and an Adrian Mariappa own-goal. The North Americans' resurgence can be explained by several factors. Many of their players now star in European leagues, including two of their key men, Bayern Munich left-back Alphonso Davies and the aforementioned Larin. The Besiktas forward has scored 13 times in qualifying, an impressive tally that has propelled him to the top of the campaign's scoring charts. With one game remaining, the Ontario native needs just two more goals to equal the record set by Honduras' Carlos Pavon, who found the net 15 times during the Concacaf preliminaries for Korea/Japan 2002.

Within touching distance

The region's two traditional powerhouses, Mexico and USA, require one more point to mathematically book their spot in Qatar after defeating Honduras and Panama respectively on Sunday. The Stars and Stripes thrashed Panama 5-1 in Orlando in a game that featured a hat-trick from Christian Pulisic and goals from Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira. The country's absence from Russia 2018 appears to have allowed a new crop of burgeoning talents to flourish, such as Pulisic, Ferreira and Giovanni Reyna. Now they need a draw with Costa Rica – or a defeat by fewer than six goals – in their final match to finish the job. Mexico, meanwhile, worked hard to overcome Honduras 1-0 and secure the win that puts them on the verge of qualifying for Qatar 2022. Edson Alvarez, one of El Tri's leading lights, scored the headed winner that leaves him and his team-mates in a similar situation to their northern neighbours, as a draw at home to El Salvador will be sufficient to clinch qualification. In the event that the Mexicans lose by a single goal and Costa Rica defeat USA by fewer than four goals, they will still qualify.

Aiming for a miracle

It took Costa Rica four matches to collect their first win in Concacaf qualifying. Los Ticos, boasting a group of players who had grown accustomed to playing at World Cups, looked down and out. What followed was a remarkable resurgence, and they have now won five of their last six games and conceded just one goal in their last five. Their latest success came on Sunday afternoon in El Salvador, and that 2-1 triumph ensured that they would at least finish fourth and take part in the inter-confederation play-off. Anthony Contreras and Joel Campbell grabbed the all-important goals for the Central Americans, and the pair will need to be on top goalscoring form in their final fixture with USA on Wednesday if they are to have any chance of automatic qualification. They need to beat USA and hope that Mexico lose at home to El Salvador, and those results also need to produce a five-goal swing in the Costa Ricans' favour.


Wednesday, 30 March Panama-Canada Costa Rica-USA Mexico-El Salvador Jamaica-Honduras

Facts and figures

15 USA have never lost at home to Panama, winning all 15 games in front of their own fans. 7 Canada had not beaten Jamaica in Concacaf qualifying in seven matches. The Canucks last victory (1-0) in this fixture dates back to November 1992. 3 Christian Pulisic is the only American player to score a hat-trick on the road to Qatar 2022. The last US representative to achieve such a feat was Clint Dempsey, who netted three times in a 6-0 win over Honduras in March 2017.

What they said

“We are a footballing country, and this is what we always wanted. We wanted some respect. We wanted to show people that we're a football nation, and that's what we've done.” John Herdman, Canada coach “The ideal way to cap things off would be to secure a ticket to the World Cup on Wednesday – put in a great performance and book our spot.” Jorge Theiler, Mexico assistant coach “We needed a night like this, to win comprehensively, and that's what we got. We were able to improve our goal difference through the tremendous effort my players put in. The guys did a great job.” Gregg Berhalter, USA coach