World Cup Preview: 2014 Semifinal Round, Matchday 4

Posted on September 11, 2012 3:00 pm

Up in Canada, all the talk over the last few days has revolved around the typically Central American reception extended to their national team in Panama City. Journalists have posted videos of the raucous “street parties”, players have joked about the atmosphere, and the Canadian Soccer Association (via Twitter) has criticized its Panamanian counterpart for endorsing the ruckus.

Before getting into today’s World Cup qualifiers in our region, let me provide a pair of comments on these incidents. Based on my experiences in Costa Rica and Peru over the last few years, the Latin American attitude towards late-night noise is that you put up with the neighbors’ partying today and exact vengeance next weekend with your own festivities. I cannot remember a single time that the police shut down a party continuing until the early morning. Based on that cultural difference, the idea of local cops signing off on the “Marea Roja”‘s harassment of the Canadians hardly appears scandalous, although the CSA’s defense of its own interest is understandable. Furthermore, it bears emphasizing that this is taking place in Panama. Panama. We may be on our way to crowning a seventh country in CONCACAF in which football is the undisputed #1 sport (after Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Haiti), if the canaleros continue to inspire such devotion from their fans.

With that said, here are all the fixtures for this matchday, with the group and home team listed first (all times EDT).

Tuesday, September 11:

A – Antigua and Barbuda vs. Guatemala, 7:00 p.m.
A – USA vs. Jamaica, 8:00 p.m.
B – Guyana vs. El Salvador, 8:00 p.m.
B – Mexico vs. Costa Rica, 9:00 p.m.
C – Panama vs. Canada, 9:00 p.m.
C – Honduras vs. Cuba, 9:30 p.m.

Not since 2000 has a semifinal-round World Cup qualifying group featuring the US been so open halfway in. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are tied for second with Guatemala, three points behind their Jamaican conquerors from last Friday, and they will attempt to right the ship at the first opportunity when they take on the Reggae Boyz again at the Columbus Crew stadium, where there US has never…actually, I’ll elect to avoid mentioning another record waiting to be broken. Suffice it to say that without the services of Landon Donovan, and with Jose Francisco Torres physically outmatched, the US will be obligated to look to the wings in order to generate scoring chances against what proved to be a rugged defense in Kingston.

Then again, the narrative of Group A consisting of a three-horse race may be put to the test in the Sir Vivian Richards cricket grounds, as Antigua and Barbuda look to improve on their close defeat in the Estadio (y Piscina) Mateo Flores last week. The Benna Boys let Jamaica off the hook with a 0-0 draw in the last home match; and if they have any pretensions of fighting for an improbable spot in the Hexagonal, Peter Byers and co. will put the offside game-winner from Carlos Ruiz behind them and attack the chapines as effectively as they did for the first 60 minutes of their previous encounter.

Fellow Caribbean side Cuba is practically out of the running at this point, and only one of Honduras’s patented choke jobs at home would prevent the catrachos from rejoining Canada and Panama at the top of the table. While they attempt to exorcise the memories of their shock defeat to Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, Panama and Canada will face off in a blockbuster for group supremacy (available on TV Max). The North Americans have yet to so much as receive a goal on the road in this World Cup campaign; but Panama have maintained a perfect home record, and will count on arguably the best striker pairing in CONCACAF in Blas Perez and Luis Tejada (at least until Jose “el Chepo” de la Torre either returns to Chicharito-de Nigris or figures out how to make Chicharito-Peralta more effective) for their scoring necessities.

While this match undoubtedly fits the description of a six-pointer, another one will have an even greater impact on the number of remaining permutations for its respective group.

MATCH OF THE ROUND

vs.

First, let me provide a bold, daring prediction: Mexico will most likely beat Costa Rica at the Estadio Azteca tonight. Any objections?

That near-inevitability renders the other fixture in Group B a World Cup Final, as far as the teams involved are concerned. Unless El Salvador defeat the Golden Jaguars in Georgetown, they will settle in behind their fellow Central Americans heading into October. In this case, even if they defeat Costa Rica in the Estadio Cuscatlan, Juan de Dios Castillo’s side would still find themselves obligated to get a result in Mexico City in order to offset Costa Rica’s probable victory over Guyana in San Jose, a proposition with little chance of success.

On the other hand, after their heroic performance on the road (relative to their inexperience at this level), Gregory Richardson and co. have no reason to assume that a victory tonight is beyond them. Furthermore, such a result would catapult them into a probable tie with Costa Rica in second place; afterwards, even assuming a loss against Mexico, they would at least retain a shot of overtaking the ticos on Matchday 6. Here’s hoping that if they remain in contention today, the Guyanese Football Federation will pass up on the opportunity to fill their pockets by “hosting” their October showdown with Mexico in the US and allow fans to witness the fight for World Cup survival on their home turf.

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