Posted on October 11, 2012
By Michael Lewis
Eight into five doesn’t go, which means the final two games of the CONCACAF semifinal round of World Cup qualifying should mean for some memorable and dramatic confrontations.
Mexico is the only team of the 12 semifinals that is secure knowing it has clinched a berth in next year’s hexagonal, and Cuba is the only team that has been mathematically eliminated.
Those eight teams that have a decent chance of booking a spot are expected to go all out. They are Guatemala, the United States and Jamaica in Group A, El Salvador and Costa Rica in Group B and Panama, Honduras and Canada in Group C.
That being said, here are my predictions for Friday games (home team listed first):
Antigua & Babuda vs. United States
Antigua (0-3-1, one point) needs a win to keep its slim hopes alive, while the Americans need a victory with some goals to pad their goal differential total, especially with Jamaica hosting Antigua on Tuesday. Remember, they enter the final two matches tied with Guatemala for the group lead with 2-1-1 records and seven points apiece. They remain barely ahead of Jamaica (2-1-1, seven) by one in differential (the U.S. and Guatemala are at plus two, Jamaica at plus one). Even though coach Juergen Klinsmann has decided to bring only 20 players down (teams are allowed 23) and even though he has major problems at left back due to injuries, the Americans should find a way to win. If the Caribbean side ties or wins, it will be considered a huge upset.
Prediction: U.S. 3, Antigua 1. The U.S. gets an opportunity to increase its precious goal differential total.
Guatemala vs. Jamaica
Guatemala needs a home victory against the Reggae Boyz or face a must-win situation vs. the Americans in Kansas City, Kansas on Tuesday. The U.S. has not lost a home World Cup qualifier in more than 11 years, since a 3-2 defeat to Honduras in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, 2001. The Jamaicans would love to secure a win in Guatemala City, but a tie would be stunning and quite helpful for the Boyz because they have Antigua coming up at home on Tuesday. Because the top three teams in this group are so close, nothing gets decided on Friday.
Prediction: Guatemala 1, Jamaica 0. The Central Americans will set up one memorable Tuesday night.
Guyana vs. Mexico
Mexico doesn’t need a thing at this Guyana home game in Houston, since El Tri already has qualified for 2013 with a perfect 4-0-0 mark, the only team among the 12 semifinalists who have done so. It will be intriguing to see what kind of lineup coach Jose Manuel de la Torre deploys, whether he will use the regulars who helped the team qualify for the the hexagonal, reserves or a combination. Even though Guyana (0-3-1, one) sits at the bottom of the group, it has made its foes sweat, scoring two goals twice. Like Antigua, the big question is whether they can keep up the success through the Caribbean Cup and qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Prediction: Mexico 3, Guyana 1. No matter what El Tri puts on the field, it usually has been first class.
El Salvador vs. Costa Rica
El Salvador (1-1-2, five) needs a win to secure a hexagonal spot and eliminate the Ticos. Costa Rica (1-2-1, four), which has become accustomed to reaching the final CONCACAF round, needs at least a tie to keep its hopes alive in what could become the game of the semifinals’ fifth phase. If the Costa Ricans can secure a result, they will have an opportunity to clinch against Guyana, while the Salvadorans play Mexico at dreaded Azteca Stadium, where opposing national sides come to die.
Prediction: El Salvador 2, Costa Rica 2. The Central Americans will set up just another memorable Tuesday night.
Panama vs. Honduras
Panama (3-1-0, nine) needs a tie or a win in Panama City to clinch a spot in the final round, Honduras (2-1-1, seven) needs a result to feel more comfortable going into Tuesday’s home confrontation with Canada. The Hondurans, however, are hurting, as they will be forced to play without goalkeeper Noel Valladares, one of the best in the confederation, and box-to-box midfielder Roger Espinoza. Both players are out with ankle injuries. This is a special, golden generation of Panamanian players who could very well book their first spot in the World Cup.
Prediction: Panama 2, Honduras 1. While Honduras is a solid side, Panama is one of the best CONCACAF has to offer.
Canada vs. Cuba
Canada not only needs a win against the Cubans in Toronto, but a multi-goal victory to pad its goal differential in case they wind up tied with Honduras (which enjoys a two-goal advantage over the Canadians). The Cubans need a goal, just so they can say they scored at least one in qualifying (the Caribbeans have suffered three consecutive shutouts). They are looking toward the future, building a team for their participation in the Caribbean Cup later this fall. The Canadians will have to clinch a final round spot without their all-time international goal-scorer, Dwayne De Rosario (knee injury).
Prediction: Canada 2, Cuba 0. The North Americans will set up yet another memorable Tuesday night.
See you all Monday for the final set of predictions.
Photo: The USA’s Herculez Gomez and Antigua’s Winston Griffith will go at each other on Friday night. Andy Mead/YCJ
Categories: Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, Caribbean, Central America, Costa Rica, Cuba, Editorial, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, U.S.A.
Tags: CONCACAF, El Tri, Reggae Boyz, World Cup qualifying