The Hexagonal is a 10-match donnybrook over the course of more than a calendar year to determine the CONCACAF places in the 2018 World Cup. While it’s really nothing compared to the 18-match, 24-month cauldron that the South American teams face, it’s still no walk in the park.
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Costa Rica inched its way closer to a berth in Russia next summer with a stunning and convincing 2-0 triumph over the United States on Friday in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Mexico eased its way past Panama at a less-than-half-full Estadio Azteca and became the fifth team to clinch qualification. They join the hosts, Brazil, Iran and Japan as five of the 32 teams who will compete. The next question becomes whether the Mexicans will bother playing another home game at the Azteca, as many of their best players compete in Europe and the altitude that used to greatly favor Mexico no longer comes into play anymore.
Honduras went to Trinidad & Tobago and scored twice in the first 17 minutes and held on to steal a 2-1 win. Through seven fixtures, Honduras sit level on 8 points with the USA, tied for third with three matches remaining. The US does have the easiest remaining schedule, as it will face all three of the teams below them (the US is eight goals ahead of Honduras in goal differential). But with Costa Rica and Mexico all but assured qualification, who knows what you’ll get from them in the last two matchdays when they play lower-level teams after they square off in San Jose on Tuesday.
The US goes to San Pedro Sula to meet Honduras in a critical tie the same afternoon, and Panama will host Trinidad & Tobago in hopes of getting to 10 points and moving ahead of the Americans, Hondurans or (in the event of a draw) both. The US match in Honduras will start shortly after 5:30 Eastern while the other two games will go at around 10 EDT.
In South America, things are even dicier. Thursday’s tension was evident in the final scorelines, as more than half of the teams failed to score and two games ended in 0-0 draws. Peru won a shocking 3-0 decision in Santiago over Copa America holders Chile, and Peru held off a Bolivia side 2-1 in Lima; those sides sitting on 18 points were the big winners on Matchday 15. Brazil beat Ecuador at home, 2-0. Venezuela battled visiting Colombia to a scoreless draw, and host Uruguay did the same with Argentina.
Three matches remain, with Tuesday’s fixtures setting up mouth-watering fixtures on Oct. 5 and 10 to likely decide five bids to the World Cup in Russia. The standings couldn’t be much tighter after Brazil at the top. Colombia sit on 25 points and alone in second, but eighth-place Ecuador is very much alive with 20 points. Just five separate the middle seven teams with three matches left, making Tuesday’s games must-see-TV for any real soccer fan.
Bolivia will host Chile in the altitude of La Paz at 4 p.m. Eastern, while Colombia entertain Brazil, winners of nine straight in qualification, as a slight underdog a half-hour later. Peru will travel to Ecuador and its altitude and smog for kickoff at 5 in the afternoon EDT. That’s three games where you need to have your head on a swivel.
Venezuela is in Argentina at 7:30 and Uruguay travels to Paraguay a half-hour after that – and two matches are easier to follow than three.