June 13, 2012
Analyzing how the 12 CONCACAF teams fared in World Cup qualifying
By Michael Lewis
Tim Howard and the U.S. National Team did OK in the first two games of World Cup qualifying.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Now that the dust has settled after the first two phases of CONCACAF semifinal qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it's time to examine each team's chances of surviving until next year's hexagonal round.
While I have separated the 12 teams into my own unique groups, here is a quick look at the actual standings of the three official groups:
1. United States (1-0-1, four points)
-- Jamaica (1-0-1, four)
3. Guatemala (0-1-1, one)
-- Antigua & Barbuda (0-1-1, one)
1. Mexico (2-0-0, six)
2. Costa Rica (1-0-1, four)
3. El Salvador (0-1-1, one)
4. Guyana (0-2-0, none)
1. Panama (2-0-0, six)
2. Canada (1-0-1, four)
3. Honduras (0-1-1. one)
4. Cuba (0-2-0, none)
In the driver's seat
Both teams could have not done any better.
Much more was expected of the Mexicans in their 3-1 home win over Guyana on Friday, but El Tri eked out a 2-1 victory at El Salvador. Nothing pretty, but when you're on the road in World Cup qualifying, it's all about the points, not the performance. With many of their players tired after domestic or European seasons with their respective clubs, the Mexicans could be quite dangerous in three months time after they recharge their batteries as they set their sights on Costa Rica in September.
Panama has been the surprise of the semifinal round to many observers and media members, but it doesn't surprise yours truly one iota. I knew how good the Central Americans (skill, determination and being physical) were during last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup. They are not flashes-in-the-pan. They will be there in the end as they try to reach the final round and try to secure their first World Cup berth.
United States, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Canada
U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann said it best after his team missed out on a win and settled for a 1-1 tie at Guatemala on Tuesday: the Americans did OK. Not great, but OK. Six points would have put them in the drivers' seats, but Marco Pappa will not score a better placed free kick in his career. It's certainly not the end of the world or the end of the World Cup, although the U.S. has a key home-and-home series with Jamaica coming up on Sept. 7 and 11.
The Jamaicans, who never beaten the U.S. in 18 encounters (0-10-8), might need those two points it did not earn in its scoreless deadlock at Antigua on Tuesday night if the later games don't go their way. Until proved otherwise, however, the Reggae Boyz and Americans are still the top two sides in Group B.
Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio sparked the Ticos to a crushing 4-0 triumph at Guyana, which did not make up for squandering a two-goal lead at home in the 2-2 draw with El Salvador last Friday. However, the Central Americans can ill afford similar meltdowns in the future or suffer the great embarrassment of not even reaching the final round. The turning point could be against Mexico in the home-and-away series, hosting El Tri on Sept. 7 and playing at Azteca Stadium on Sept. 11.
I have to admit, I am still not convinced that Canada can reach the next round, despite four points from its first two matches. True, those points are money in the bank, but the Canadians still have to play on the road at Honduras and Panama, not exactly appetizing places for visiting teams. As I've written before, Canada's midfield can knock the ball around as well as any team in the confederation. However, when it comes to knocking it into the net, it's an entirely different (and frustrating) story. In its next two games, Canada faces a stiff challenge in Panama, hosting Los Canaleros on Sept. 7 and traveling to Panama City on Sept. 11.
Wait until September
El Salvador, Guatemala
Statistically, these two Central American sides have gotten off to a rough start with 0-1-1 records, but things could change -- change drastically -- in a few months time.
The El Salvadorans had that comeback tie in Costa Rica, but fell to the Mexicans on Tuesday night. But they will have an opportunity to feast on Guyana twice in September -- a home encounter on Sept. 7 and an away match on Sept. 11.
The Guatemalans managed to tie the U.S. on Pappa's late goal after falling in Jamaica, 2-1. They will host Antigua on Sept. 7 and play in the Caribbean four days later. They have to make sure they donít get any yellow cards for flopping on the field. It seemed that they lead CONCACAF semifinal qualifying in that department.
Anything less than a six-point sweep for both sides will be considered disappointing and perhaps the kiss of death with much more demanding competition upcoming during the final two matches in October.
Honduras, Antigua & Barbuda
The Antiguans made some history by securing their very first point in the semifinal round in its scoreless home draw with Jamaica. They will have to earn a minimum of four points -- most likely a pair of wins -- against Guatemala in September to have any chance of staying alive. Anything Antigua does now will be gravy as the Caribbean team has exceeded expectations.
The Hondurans, who were stunned by Panama at home, 2-0, in their opener on Friday, face a must-sweep situation in the next two games in September or face qualifying extinction. The Central Americans visit Cuba on Sept. 7 and host the Caribbean side on Sept. 11. If Honduras cannot get out of this round in one piece, it will be considered a disappear, particularly after qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the 2012 London Olympics.
One foot in the grave
It is very difficult to come from behind in soccer, whether you are two goals down in a game, or have no points after the first two games in what essentially is a six-game tournament. Guyana was introduced to qualifying reality with a 4-0 shellacking by Costa Rica at home on Tuesday night. The Guyanese, who put up a brave front in a 3-1 loss at Mexico on Friday, have a minus six goal differential, which will not be very helpful when it comes to tie-breakers. The fact that Guyana has reached this stage for the first time is a major achievement and the team should look to build upon it in future competitions, whether it the Caribbean Cup, the qualifying arm for next year's CONCACAF Gold Cup or WC qualifying.
I got an opportunity to see Cuba play live and the Caribbeans just don't have it this time. They can move the ball around and get into attacking positions, but the quality of shot selection and the shots themselves were questionable in their 1-0 home loss to Canada. If the Cubans do not suffer any more defections over the next several years or they allow some of their leading players to perform with pro clubs overseas, they can improve. But the likelihood of that happening in this competition most likely won't happen. Like it or not, the Cubans' fate could be sealed in their September series with Honduras.