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World Cup to be finalized in this international break

One month ago, the United States lost in Trinidad & Tobago by a 2-1 count and had its World Cup hopes extinguished when both Panama and Honduras were able to record wins in their respective fixtures against Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively.

Panama qualified for the first time, while Honduras earned the CONCACAF place in the playoffs and 180 minutes and possible penalty kicks against Australia. It kicks off in San Pedro Sula on Friday at 5 Eastern, right in the middle of the brutal heat & humidity of a Central American afternoon. The second leg will be Wednesday in Australia, at 4 a.m. Eastern time.

Peru emerged from the carnage of CONMEBOL and snatched fifth place and a playoff spot against New Zealand. That playoff tie starts in Auckland with a day game on Friday (10:15 p.m. EST, but Saturday afternoon in New Zealand) before the second leg in Lima on Nov. 15 at 9:15 EST.

Two CAF winners have emerged from Africa, but three are still to be determined for the five qualifiers from that continent. Nigeria and Egypt are the only two sides that have already booked reservations for Russia next summer. Tunisia need only a draw against heavy underdog Libya to advance; the Democratic Republic of Congo must win as a solid favorite against Guinea and hope for a shock result from Rades, where the host Tunisians are roughly 2-goal favorites.

Two other fixtures will decide the last two berths from the region. Ivory Coast will entertain Morocco knowing that they must win the game to advance; Morocco need only a draw in Abidjan.

South Africa and Senegal are the two candidates for the final berth. Bafana Bafana won the November match 2-1, but the result was annulled due to corrupt officiating. That means the South Africans will have to win the replay of that fixture and then the replay on the road just four days later. Only two wins would see South Africa through; otherwise Senegal would join the other four CAF sides on Fridayor Tuesday.

Belgium, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia and Spain are already in through Europe. Eight of the nine second-placed teams in UEFA qualifying compete for the final four European bids; Slovakia didn’t earn enough points and were the odd team left out from the nine original groups for a playoff chance.

The first of two legs in the four team European playoffs are as follows: Switzerland at Northern Ireland and Greece at Croatia on Thursday at 2:45 p.m. EST. The same times are for the other two fixtures; Italy is at Sweden on Friday and Ireland will be at Denmark on Saturday. I’ll preview the second legs of all those fixtures after first 90 minutes of each tie.

Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Uruguay are the other countries that are awaiting the two African and four European sides in addition to the winners of the two Intercontinental playoff fixtures mentioned at the start of the piece. In a week from now, the final 32 countries will be known; the draw will be at the Kremlin in Moscow on Dec. 1.

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