FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifying matches return on Sept. 6. As a full slate of contests approaches, we’re bringing you a breakdown of all six confederations, where teams stand and how they can earn a coveted place in Brazil.
North, Central America and Caribbean: Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF)
How many countries compete? 35
How many teams qualify for the World Cup? 3 or 4
How does it all work? Based on world ranking and prior group matches, the final six countries are placed into one big group dubbed the Hexagonal. After 10 contests, one home and one away against each team, the top three countries advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The fourth placed team faces New Zealand, the top-team from Oceania, in a two-legged match for qualification.
When will we know? The final Hexagonal matches take place October 15. The Intercontinental Playoff match with New Zealand will conclude November 20.
Who’s in so far? No one has clinched qualification yet.
Who’s on the cusp? USA leads the standings through six matches with 13 points. Costa Rica has 11 points, while Mexico has eight. Honduras and Panama are lurking with seven and six points, respectively.
Who’s out? While still alive mathematically, Jamaica, with just two points, needs to go on amazing run in its last four contests to qualify.
What are the upcoming matches to watch?
The Hexagonal format means that every match is critical. Of the six contests to be played on Friday and Tuesday, these are the fixtures we feel are most worthy of your attention:
Costa Rica v USA, San Jose
There’s plenty of bad blood in this matchup between the two teams at the top of the qualification table in the wake of the infamous snow game, the “Snowclasico,” if you will, on March 22 in Colorado. On that day, the USMNT won 1-0 through an early goal from Clint Dempsey to the disgust of Costa Rica players and officials who cried foul.
The Stars and Stripes have never taken three points in a qualifying match on Costa Rican soil, but will look to continue its worldwide best 12-match win streak and take a major step to securing a place in Brazil. In fact, a win along with a Mexico/Honduras draw and a Panama loss or tie against Jamaica would seal qualification.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, is keen on revenge and could usurp the USMNT for the Hexagonal’s top spot with a win. They will look to demonstrate why they are undefeated in all snow-free matches against the men from the USA since 2005.
Check this space on Friday for a detailed preview of USMNT’s two upcoming matches.
Mexico v Honduras, Mexico City
Mexico’s most iconic player, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, has called on his country to win all four of its remaining qualifying matches or risk being left in the cold next summer. El Tri has had a dismal campaign to date, only managing to muster one win and five draws from its first six contests, still good for third place and a one point lead on the Hondurans.
Suffice it to say, this is an absolutely critical match for both sides. A loss by Mexico coupled with Panama beating the struggling Jamaicans in Panama City could see the once-dominant CONCACAF country drop down to fifth place. Ironically, it was the March 22nd match between these teams in Honduras that could prove Mexico’s undoing after giving up a two-goal led and dropping two points.
Honduras v Panama, Tegucigalpa
Only one point separates Honduras and Panama in fourth and fifth entering the upcoming wave of matches, and this affair will be vital no matter Friday’s results. Panama took all three points on March 26th and would further clear the path to a play-off or top three qualification with another win.
Panama will likely come into the match with loads of confidence if they can topple a Jamaican team playing its first game under new coach Winfried Schafer on Friday.
USA v Mexico, Columbus
It’s always a heated contest when the USA and Mexico take the field, but this one takes on special meaning as El Tri’s World Cup hopes hang in the balance. There was so much interest in this match that the U.S. Soccer Federation had to hold a lottery for the 24,000 tickets. At least 9,000 seats will go to the American Outlaws, the diehard group, which would make for the largest supporters section in U.S. soccer history. See Friday’s post for complete coverage.