Canada in Top Spot as CONCACAF 2022 Qualifiers Wrap Up for 2021
The CONCACAF 2022 World Cup qualifiers tournament's November break saw plenty of action on the pitch. Still, only the top of the table saw any real movement, with unbeaten Canada marching into the top spot over Mexico and the USA.
Starting the window in third place on 10 points and four points behind tournament leader and continental heavyweight Mexico, Canada took all six points available from their matches to win first place on 16 points. Their 1-0 victory against Costa Rica and historic 2-1 defeat of Mexico, whom they have only beaten three times previously in over twenty matches, plus the USA's late win over the Mexicans and draw with Jamaica, ensured The Reds rose above their nearest rivals.
The Canadians, who have qualified for the World Cup tournament only once in 1986, ended the break with their qualification dreams several steps closer to becoming a reality. Let's take a look at how the action across the international window panned out…
After the last two matchdays, the North, Central and Caribbean qualifiers for the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qatar are over halfway through. Eight matches from fourteen have been played, and only six games remain. At the start of the November window, unbeaten Mexico ranked 9th in the world, were the undisputed leader on 14 points and three clear of second-placed, 13th ranked USA. Canada ranked 48th, sat in third place, one point behind the USA, and Panama sat in fourth place, two points behind The Reds on 8 points. Bringing up the rear were Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador and Honduras.
Only the top three teams at the end of the tournament will win the coveted tickets to Qatar in 2022. The fourth-placed team will win the opportunity to play at the intercontinental playoffs for a last chance at qualifying. The race for the top four slots is intense; every goal and point count. Over the break, eight games were played, and the battle turned the top of the leader table on its head. Mexico ended the window after two losses in third, still on 14 points. Panama, with two wins, stayed in fourth directly behind Mexico, also on 14 points - the two separated by goal difference only. While briefly claiming their place at the top of the standings after a first match win, the USA dropped back down into second place after a draw and Canada's two wins of the break. The Americans ended the break one point ahead of Mexico on 15 and one behind Canada on 16.
At the end of the window, the standings stack up as follows:
|TeamCosta Rica||Points9||Goal Difference-1|
|TeamEl Salvador||Points6||Goal Difference-6|
On the first November matchday, Honduras hosted Panama, Canada played Costa Rica, El Salvador took on Jamaica, and the USA played at home to Mexico.
Honduras vs Panama - Despite Honduras taking a two-goal lead, courtesy of Alberth Elis and Brayan Moya, Panama's boys slotted in three late goals within the space of nine minutes to steal the win and close the gap between themselves and their top three rivals, Canada, the USA and Mexico. Cecilio Waterman began the turnaround for Panama in the 77th minute with a header into the back of the net. Three minutes later, a through ball from Omar Browne was kicked home by Cesar Yanis. Then Eric Davis took the win in the 85th with a free-kick. Panama's victory saw them move five points clear of fifth-placed Costa Rica.
Canada vs Costa Rica - Against Costa Rica, Canada dominated the game, but a stout Costa Rican defence gave the Canadians limited scoring opportunities. Only three real chances presented themselves. The first, a 15-minute corner kick, was deflected into the woodwork by Costa Rica's keeper Leonel Moreira. The second, an acrobatic overhead kick from Tajon Buchanan in the 54th, hit the crossbar but stayed out. And the third, a spilled ball by Moreira that Johnathon David booted home in the 57th for the win. Canada's 1-0 triumph saw the squad pick up three vital points securing their third-place position.
El Salvador vs Jamaica - Though El Salvador dominated their home match against Jamaica; the Reggae Boyz broke the deadlock with a goal from Michail Antonio in the last eight minutes of the second half. However, instead of earning the three points, the Jamaicans had to settle for one point after El Salvador came from behind to score a dying minute header, via Alex Roldan, to level the game. The point apiece brought both teams level with Costa Rica on six points, though behind in sixth and seventh position on goal difference.
USA vs Mexico - Mexico, unbeaten after six matches, started the game piling pressure on a younger and less experienced American squad. The Mexicans made several attempts to open the scoring, but athletic efforts by the USA's goalkeeper Zack Steffen kept the scoreboard level. However, after the break, El Tri's performance was less intense. Play became a little chippy with three yellow cards for an argument between the sides. Taking advantage, the Stars and Stripes boys pressed for a home win. Their efforts were rewarded with a back of the net header from Christian Pulisic in the 74th minute. Mexico spurred to equalise, but Weston McKenzie booted home a second goal past Guillermo Ochoa in the 85th. The late win sent the USA into first place ahead of Mexico for the second time this tournament and smashed the Mexicans unbeaten run.
The second November matchday saw Jamaica take on the USA in Kingston, Panama battle against El Salvador, Costa Rica face Honduras and Canada play host to Mexico.
Jamaica vs USA - After their win over Mexico, the USA would undoubtedly have been confident facing Jamaica, even playing away to the Reggae Boyz. Indeed, an 11-minute opener, born from Tim Weah's unassisted run that snuck behind the Jamaican defence, and was struck home via an impressive angled shot, got the ball rolling for the Americans. But, ten minutes later, an individual effort from Michail Antonio saw the US's keeper Steffen overstretched and unable to save the powerful shot, equalising the score. Both teams fought for a second winning goal but, other than a disallowed effort from Jamaica, neither could find the back of the net. The disappointing draw for the US meant both Canada and Mexico could challenge for the top spot.
Panama vs El Salvador - Panama, five points clear of Costa Rica in fifth place, nevertheless, needed a win over El Salvador to strengthen their position and close in on the top three teams. With Jairo Henriquez's opening goal in the first minute of the game, the match looked likely to be an uphill struggle. However, with the home advantage and backed by supporters, Panama went on the attack making twelve attempts within the next forty-four minutes. Into the second half, the Panamanians kept the pressure on and, after his initial shot of the half was thwarted, Cecilio Waterman headed home an equaliser in the 50th. Two minutes later, Freddy Gondola headed in the second goal from close range. Very few chances presented themselves in the rest of the last half of the game, and Panama took the win just 2-1, increasing the gap between themselves and Costa Rica significantly.
Costa Rica vs Honduras - After they were disappointed at the hands of the Canadians, Costa Rica needed a win to keep their qualification dreams alive. Oscar Duarte gave the squad hope with a 20-minute opener with a close-range header from a corner won by teammate Joel Campbell who delivered Duarte the cross. But, Honduras followed up fifteen minutes later with an equaliser from Romell Quioto. The rest of the match was played out with neither side finding the target and a draw looked likely. However, a dying minute header from Costa Rican Gerson Torres gave Los Ticos the win. The three points earned pushed the team up to 9 points and only five from Panama's playoff qualifying position.
Canada vs Mexico - While Canada may not have been the best team on the pitch, Mexico's squad started the match relatively poorly and recorded many individual mistakes. The Canadians took advantage of Mexico's lacklustre performance and, following a long-shot from Alistair Johnston that rebounded, Cyle Larin scored the opening goal. Buoyed by their position, Canada started to take control of the game in the second half. And while Mexico was better on the offensive, sloppy defending allowed Larin to collect a brace with a second goal in the 52nd. Beaten for the second time in the tournament's final round, Mexico slipped down the table into third, while Canada went straight to the top.
The CONCACAF qualifiers will start up again in January 2022. Panama will head to Costa Rica, Mexico to Jamaica, El Salvador to the USA and Canada to Honduras on January 27th for the opening matches of the three matchday window. If they want to retain their first-place spot, Canada will have to work hard over the window, where they also face the USA and El Salvador.
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