It’ll be do or die time later today for six Latin American sides vying for one of the four automatic spots to next year’s soccer World Cup (WC) in Brazil.
(Update: Which teams went through? Find out after the page break).
In the region encompassing North America, Central America and the Caribbean, one of three teams could qualify tonight for the WC. The favorite to do so is Honduras who could go through with a victory or a tie against already-eliminated Jamaica. Although Los Catrachos have never won in a WC qualifier in Jamaica, several players are looking forward to tonight’s match.
“We’re going through a wonderful experience and we’ll keep working hard so that things can come out in our favor,” noted Honduran striker Jerry Bengston. “Thank God we’re reaching our objectives through our unity as a team and our winning mentality,” added the man who scored the lone goal in last Friday’s Honduran win against Costa Rica.
“There are ninety minutes to go. We need tor respect our rival and undoubtedly go for the win,” said Honduran defender Víctor Bernárdez. “We’re all very motivated,” he mentioned as Honduras looks to secure their second consecutive trip to the WC.
In stark contrast to a highly successful 2012, this year has been the polar opposite for a Mexican team that has been in turmoil and was on the brink of elimination after yet another dos a cero loss against the U.S. Yet it was an overhead golazo by Raul Jimenez in the dying minutes of Mexico’s 2-1 win over Panama last week that gave El Tri the possibility to qualify should Honduras slipup:
“In our game, sometimes we exaggerate, we become arrogant,” said Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich yesterday. “I think this is the moment that we should reflect and show, above all, on the pitch that we need to win,” said Vucetich about his team that could secure a playoff against New Zealand if Mexico ties tonight against Costa Rica.
On the outside looking in is Panama, the only team in the CONCACAF final qualifying group that has never made it to a WC. To obtain the final automatic qualifying berth, Panama will need to beat group-leading U.S. by a comfortable margin and hope that Honduras and Mexico both lose.
Despite the long odds, the Panamanian players like Gabriel Gómez are cautiously optimistic and, as he said, “we’re holding on to a small flicker of light.”
In South America, meanwhile, three teams are will be fighting it out to see who will obtain one of the region’s two automatic berths that are still up for grabs.
The match to watch will be played in the Chilean capital of Santiago where the home side faces Ecuador. Both teams are tied on 25 points and, hence, control their respective destinies.
“We aspire to qualify with a win against Ecuador,” asserted Chilean team coach Jorge Sampaoli. “We’ve worked very hard for this and we want to show our fans that our team wants to win,” added Sampaoli whose team was heavily criticized after they squandered a 3-0 lead to tie against Colombia last week.
Ecuador is riding high after winning 1-0 last week against Uruguay in Quito, which led Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to tweet, "It's almost impossible to be left out (of the WC)." Yet Ecuador has never won in Santiago and this could be advantageous to Uruguay.
For Uruguay, three wins in their last four qualifiers have placed them in position to at least obtain a playoff spot against Jordan. Los Charruas have a shot at an automatic berth but only if they blowout beat bitter rivals Argentina and if either Ecuador or Chile lose.
"It's certainly an incentive to win the 'clasico' and if there's a chance we have to defend it (our ranking) to the death," said Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, whose side is ranked seventh in the world.
Uruguay will be seeking a measure of revenge against Los Albicelestes who beat them 1-0 in a 2009 WC qualifier and forced them into a playoff series against Costa Rica. Uruguay would go on to win the series and eventually reach the WC semifinals in 2010.
The U.S., Costa Rica, Argentina, Colombia and host nation Brazil are thus far the only teams that have booked their tickets to next summer’s WC.
(Update: Chile, Ecuador and Honduras qualified to the WC in Brazil. Uruguay and Mexico will have to play in their respective play-in series next month against Jordan and New Zealand, respectively).
Video Source– YouTube via ESPN
Online Sources – Too many to list!