FOX Soccer Exclusive
CONCACAF teams battle for Hex berth
Five of the six berths in the Hexagonal remain unclaimed ahead of the final matchday in the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Mexico guaranteed its spot in the six-team final stage after four rounds, but no other country has mathematically secured a berth ahead of Tuesday's final set of matches. Costa Rica, Panama and the United States will almost certainly join the Mexicans in the Hexagonal, barring a peculiar sequence of results.
Canada, Guatemala, Honduras and Jamaica will vie for the remaining two spots as Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba and Guyana are already eliminated from contention, and El Salvador is unlikely to achieve the results required to keep its hopes alive.
With plenty of permutations still in play as the tense final day approaches, FOX Soccer surveys the landscape in all three groups ahead of the decisive fixtures.
Where they stand
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The critical encounter takes place in Kansas City, Kan. Joint group leaders Guatemala and the United States play at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park with the knowledge that a draw will see both countries book a place in the Hexagonal.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann must once again ponder his options at left back with Fabian Johnson (illness) unavailable for a second straight match. Even with that selection concern on his mind, Klinsmann will expect an improved performance from the ugly 2-1 victory at Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night, and a straightforward win against a Guatemalan side that has never triumphed on American soil. Guatemala boss Ever Hugo Almeida will hope his injury-riddled defense performs as well as it did in the 2-1 home victory over Jamaica in order to secure the stalemate required to book one of the two tickets out of Group A.
If either the Americans or the Guatemalans slip up, then Jamaica could claim one of the two berths with a victory over Antigua and Barbuda in Kingston. Theodore Whitmore's side probably deserved a point from its visit to Guatemala City, but it must now secure a home win to preserve any chance of progressing to the final stage. A victory by three or more goals plus any decisive result in the United States-Guatemala game would definitely push the Jamaicans through, and render the potentially harmful 0-0 draw at Antigua on June 12 irrelevant.
Where they stand
Mexico clinched its berth in final round after four matches and extended its perfect record in group play with a 5-0 victory over Guyana on Friday night. Costa Rica will claim second spot unless a series of improbable results unfolds to allow El Salvador a chance to sneak into the mix.
The Ticos did most of the hard work to qualify in Friday's 1-0 victory in San Salvador. José Cubero scored after 31 minutes to separate the two sides on the night and send Jorge Luis Pinto's side into second place. Costa Rica will now advance to the Hexagonal with a home victory over stragglers Guyana. Although the Guyanese held out against the Mexicans until the final quarter of an hour on Friday night, the Costa Ricans should coast to the points after winning 4-0 in Providence in the reverse fixture on June 12.
El Salvador must hope for a miracle in San José and a first victory in Mexico City to maintain its slim hopes of qualifying for the final round. Mexico boss José Manuel de la Torre watched his experimental side struggle to score until the late stages at BBVA Compass Stadium, but he will expect his players to maintain their unblemished record in Group B play with a decent showing against a desperate Salvadoran group missing suspended duo Eliseo Quintanilla and Alfredo Pacheco.
Where they stand
Canada, Honduras and Panama enter the final slate of games with hopes of finishing first or second in the group. Panama appears certain to top the group with an away victory at Cuba, leaving Canada and Honduras to decide second spot in a critical match in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday afternoon.
Stephen Hart's side travels to Honduras with the knowledge that a draw will ensure a first Canadian berth in the Hexagonal since the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign. Hart can point to his team's strong defensive record (four shutouts in five matches, including a 0-0 draw with Honduras in Toronto on June 12) to offer some hope of a result against the favored home side. Honduras must win to prolong its bid for a second consecutive World Cup spot, but it will feel confident about dispatching the Canadians after claiming a 0-0 draw in Panama City on Friday night.
Panama will consider that draw a decent result because it protected the chance to seal a berth in the final round with a victory in Havana. The straightforward trip shouldn't pose much of a problem for the Panamanians. Cuba has conceded nine times without mustering a single goal in reply during the previous five matches. In addition to those woes, the Cubans may also face a selection crisis after four players reportedly defected prior to the 3-0 defeat at Canada on Friday night.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.
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