Qualified: Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Current Round: Syria vs. Australia playoff. Winner will play 4th place CONCACAF team
After the Fourth Round of Asian qualifying, we have our four main qualifiers from Asia. For a potential 5th spot, we have a playoff between Australia and feel-good story Syria. Australia stumbled in qualifying, leaving the door open for Saudi Arabia to finish second in their group. Syria booked a playoff spot with a last-gasp equalizer vs. Iran in their final game last round, in combination with Uzbekistan Uzbekistaning harder than they’ve ever Uzbekistaned. Will the fairy tale continue for Syria? Or will Australia rediscover the form and qualify for a fourth consecutive World Cup?
CONCACAF (North America)
Format for final round: One group of six teams. Top three teams qualify for the World Cup, fourth place team goes to a playoff with Asia’s 5th place side.
With two matches left in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, the picture is becoming a bit more clear. Mexico is going to Russia. Costa Rica is all but assured of a spot, and would need a collapse of biblical proportions to miss out. Trinidad would need a miracle to qualify for a playoff. The real battle is for 3rd-5th. 3rd place can say “привет, Россия!”, 4th place will have to playoff vs. Syria/Australia for a spot in Russia, while 5th place will need to warm up the couch, crack open a few cold beers, and watch from home. The USA were in the third spot going into the last break, but unfortunately for Bruce Arena and the US, Costa Rica sodomized them with a rusty tire iron again. This, in combination with an uninspiring performance at Honduras (in which they were rescued by a Bobby Wood 85th minute equalizer), means their World Cup qualifying campaign is in jeopardy. They play an incredibly crucial match vs. Panama on October 6th, with the winner being well on their way to a spot in the World Cup. This is a winnable match for the United States, however they do remain uneasy. Their form has been sluggish, Panama has always played the US tough, and Bruce Arena’s call-ups for these qualifiers have been met with scorn and panic from US fans. They do have the players to beat Panama at home (and subsequently Trinidad away), but can they come through? If they want to go to Russia, they’ll need to.
Panama, meanwhile, is in a good position to qualify for their first ever FIFA World Cup. However, they’ll need to get points from their match vs. the USA in Orlando on October 6th. Considering recent US form in combination with their own form, they feel pretty confident. A win in combination with a Honduras loss will see them qualify, and the bitter memories of Graham Zusi’s equalizer four years ago still reside in their memories.
If Honduras want to qualify for their third consecutive World Cup, they’ll have to get points from Costa Rica and Mexico, the top two teams in the final round this cycle. The task won’t be easy, especially since they have a massive GD gap to make up. However, they play Mexico at home in the final match day. With Mexico already through and Honduras typically playing well at home, don’t be surprised if Honduras can make the USA and Panama uncomfortable.
Match to watch: USA vs. Panama
Make no mistake, this is the big one. The winner will likely be going to Russia, the loser will likely have to take a detour to the World Cup (and if they’re not careful, may not be going at all)