- USA lead the chase for sole remaining automatic World Cup ticket
- Echoes of 1990 triumph as fate to be decided in Trinidad and Tobago
- Panama and Honduras lie in wait for any slips, fight for play-off spot
Having begun on 22 March 2015 in Barbados, the CONCACAF journey to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ enters its final paragraph with a few plot points still to be tied up.
With Mexico and Costa Rica already leafing through Russian travel guides, one automatic ticket remains, while an intercontinental play-off spot is also up for grabs. After looking forlorn in recent outings, USA surged back on Friday to mean they enter this concluding matchday in the driving seat, but Panama and Honduras are on their shoulder in hope of a climactic twist.
All three sides can clinch either spot or go away with nothing, so the chances for drama are high. Here FIFA.com sets the stage for a potentially thrilling finale.
Trinidad and Tobago-USA, Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva, 20:00 (local time)
Famously, a month shy of 28 years ago, the USA headed to Trinidad and Tobago for a game that would transform the face of football in the States. Having been absent for four decades from the World Cup, a solitary Paul Caligiuri goal would end their stint in something of an international purgatory and revitalise the sport.
Having appeared at every World Cup since, something bettered by only six nations, now they return looking to keep that ever-presence intact. Had it not been for a Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore-inspired display against Panama, the stakes would have been much higher, having picked up just two points in three games since their last meeting with the Soca Warriors.
However, they know a win makes qualification certain and a point is almost as good – with goal difference well in their favour. But, despite losing six on the bounce in the Hexagonal stage, this would be quite the stage for Trinidad and Tobago to exact revenge for that painful defeat all those decades ago, which delayed their World Cup debut by 16 years.
The other attractions
With Costa Rica having sewn up a World Cup return thanks to Kendall Watson’s dramatic equaliser on Saturday night, Panama’s quest for a debut appearance is set against a side with only professional pride on the table. When the pair come together in Panama City, only a win will do for maintaining the hosts’ automatic hopes but simply matching Honduras’s result – without a hefty defeat to Los Ticos or landslide home win in San Pedro Sula – will guarantee them a meeting with Asia’s play-off candidate.
All of which leaves Honduras, so gut-wrenchingly denied a seat level on points with USA in the 94th minute in San Jose, looking for missteps ahead of them to have any chance of making it three successive World Cup appearances. A win against Mexico would leave them in the hunt for even the automatic spot but all is out of their hands.
Player to watch
Alberth Elis (Honduras)
As Mexico showed against Trinidad and Tobago, they are not lacking firepower, so Honduras – who have conceded only one goal fewer than the Caribbean side at the foot of the table – will likely need to meet that threat with their own at the other end. Houston Dynamo loanee Elis, who scored three in his last two MLS games, is on the books of Mexican giants Monterrey and will need to upset a few of his parent club’s fans should Los Catrachos’ hopes of Russia be kept alive.
What they said
“The team is beaten. Now we are going to rest, meditate and prepare for the game. The important thing is that the situation depends on us.”
Panama defender Felipe Baloy after the defeat to USA.
— #WCQ ⚽️ (@FIFAWorldCup) October 8, 2017