Friday 11 June 2021, 09:07

Octagonal final round within touching distance

  • Three places in Concacaf’s final qualifying round up for grabs

  • Six contenders to face off in three two-legged ties

  • St. Kitts and Nevis and Curaçao aiming to spring further surprises

With barely time to catch their breath: the six North, Central America and Caribbean zone teams that advanced to the region’s second qualifying round for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ are gearing up for their next challenge.

The sextet have been put into three pairings to contest a home-and-away tie, with the winners progressing to the eight-team final round. There, alongside Costa Rica, USA, Honduras, Jamaica and Mexico, they will do battle for Concacaf’s 3.5 World Cup berths. previews the three high-stakes fixtures that make up the second round.

St. Kitts and Nevis - El Salvador

  • First leg: 12 June

  • Second leg: 15 June

St. Kitts and Nevis have undoubtedly been one of the revelations of these qualifiers. Heading into the final matchday in Group F, they had already secured their passage with three wins from three and no goals conceded.

However, facing them now is an El Salvador side that also showcased their attacking prowess in the opening round. Moreover, the Central American nation has World Cup pedigree, having twice before graced football’s flagship event.

Their standout player is perhaps David Rugamas, who has top scored for them in this campaign with six goals – and that despite not being an automatic starter.

That said, St. Kitts and Nevis are a team capable of varying their play without conceding goals. Indeed, they have scored the fewest goals (8) of the six qualified teams, meaning El Salvador will have their work cut out to unlock their well-drilled defence.

Haiti - Canada

  • First leg: 12 June

  • Second leg: 15 June

Canada were one of the favourites to progress from the first round and justified that billing by topping Group B. They also showcased their considerable firepower by finishing with a goal difference of +26.

Particularly impressive in the opening round was Alphonso Davies, who weighed in with four goals and five assists. Cyle Larin and Lucas Cavallini, who scored five goals apiece, had Davies to thank for many of their scoring opportunities.

Haiti, by contrast, head into the tie with more modest stats, but still with the potential to cause serious problems for the Canucks. The Caribbean side have racked up 13 goals thus far without conceding any themselves. Not even Nicaragua, who before facing them in the final matchday of Group E had managed ten goals, could find a way past their defence.

Panama - Curaçao

  • First leg: 12 June

  • Second leg: 15 June

Curaçao have been the other big revelation of these qualifiers. In a fiercely contested Group C, they had to pull out all the stops to keep Guatemala scoreless in their final showdown to edge out their opponents on goal difference.

The team’s forte is its versatility when it comes to creating opportunities up front, evidenced by nine different players getting on the scoresheet in the first round.

Panama, on the other hand, have their sights set on repeating their historic qualification for Russia 2018. Their hopes of reaching the octagonal final group rest with a renovated young side headed by Gabriel Torres, who thus far has been the team’s top scorer and most influential player.