CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualification continued in late March with Round 4 action. Here’s an analysis of the ties from a Caribbean perspective…
Background: There are five rounds in CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualification (WCQ), spanning across 31 months with the first round of action taking place in March 2015 and the last taking place in October 2017. A total of 35 nations are involved in the overall qualification process, 25 of them hailing from the Caribbean. The first three stages work on a two-legged series basis, teams play each other home-and-away with the aggregate score (and away goal rule if necessary) determining who advances, while the ensuing two stages use a group format. The famous “Hex” – which has been going since its inception in 1998 – is the final hurdle and pits the cream of CONCACAF against each other on a home-and-away round-robin group basis. The top three finishers book their ticket for Russia 2018, the fourth-placed team enters a two-legged playoff versus AFC’s fifth-placed team.
The Home of Caribbean Football will be providing extensive coverage on the whole qualification process, covering every game, goal and moment. The last Caribbean country to make it to the World Cup was Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 – can anyone end the region’s 12-year wait this time around?
Note: The countries underlined won their respective ties.
Note: Given this website primarily covers and focuses on Caribbean football, there’s no detailed write-up for ties involving just N/C American sides, only dates, venues and scores.
El Salvador – Honduras
25/03 – played in San Salvador: 2-2 (Punyed 47′, Bonilla 88′ – Elis 19′, Lozano 59′)
Canada – Mexico
25/03 – played in Vancouver: 0-3 (Hernandez 32′, Lozano 40′, Corona 72′)
Honduras – El Salvador
29/03 – played in San Pedro Sula: 2-0 (Garcia 52′, Quioto 90+4′)
Mexico – Canada
29/03 – played in Mexico City: 2-0 (Guardado PK 17′, Corona 45+3′)
Jamaica – Costa Rica
25/03 – played in Kingston: 1-1 (Watson 16′ – Acosta 67′)
The first game of his doubleheader was played at Independence Park in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. Jamaican boss Winfried Schafer called up a strong squad – but he was without captain Rodolph Austin and striker Giles Barnes due to the pair being injured. Lining up in a 4-5-1 formation with Birmingham City’s Clayton Donaldson leading the line, Jamaica started brightly and put Costa Rica on the back foot. Jobi McAnuff spurned a great opportunity inside the box less than 10 minutes in following a headed flick on by Wes Morgan. Je-Vaughn Watson broke the deadlock in the 16th minute when he connected with Kemar Lawrence’s inviting delivery from the left flank. He was left alone with too much time and space; his header was accurately placed across the face of goal. The home crowd erupted knowing that this was just the start their team needed. At half-time Jamaica would have felt relatively comfortable. The visitors upped the ante after the break, though, and their more creative players such as Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell began to flex their muscle. Los Ticos found their equalizer midway through the second half. Reggae Boyz goalkeeper Andre Blake fumbled a long-range shot and Johnny Acosta was on hand to gobble up the rebound. Darren Mattocks was brought on in the latter stages as Jamaica searched for a late winner, but it finished a point apiece. Ideally the Boyz would have wanted three points on home soil. They were put under minimal pressure in the first half yet Blake was forced into making some important saves in the second to deny Costa Rica victory. A better performance was required if they were going to take anything from the second leg in San Jose.
Haiti – Panama
25/03 – played in Port-au-Prince: 0-0
This wasn’t a great spectacle in all honesty. Recently appointed manager Patrice Neveu is still getting to grips with his players. He went with a 4-5-1 formation with Jean-Eudes Maurice and Jeff Louis flanking Kervens Belfort up front. In the first half they enjoyed considerable width as Belfort was acting as an effective target man, bringing the supporting midfielders into play. Maurice was played in on several occasions however the end product was missing. Goalkeeper Johnny Placide of Stade de Reims was forced into making one very good save, punching away a long-range Panamanian effort. The game was dirty on the whole and there were a total of 28 fouls committed altogether. Haiti’s central midfielders Jean-Marc Alexandre and Max Hilaire were intent on fouling and it was a surprise how nobody was sent off. A point and clean sheet wasn’t a disastrous outcome for Les Grenadiers. They had to show more in the final third four days later, though.
Costa Rica – Jamaica
29/03 – played in San Jose: 3-0 (Borges 7′, Ruiz 37′, Venegas 76′)
Right from the get-go Jamaica didn’t look convincing. Schafer selected the same starting line-up but the team didn’t work – they were overwhelmed by Costa Rica, who played with the sort of intensity and confidence that led them to the last eight of Brazil 2014. The first goal was extremely sloppy from a Jamaican point of view. Demar Phillips switched off on a short free-kick, failed to track his runner and Celso Borges was allowed to head home just outside the six yard box. Adrian Mariappa completely lost him. Half an hour later the hosts grabbed their second of the night, again Jamaica weren’t strong enough defensively. Campbell – who was much more dangerous than he was four days earlier – played in Marco Urena, his shot was parried away by Blake and former Fulham midfielder Ruiz made no mistake finishing off the move. Within a matter of seconds Costa Rica had gone from a seemingly innocuous situation of taking a throw-in to breaching Jamaica’s defensive line and doubling their tally. Far too easy. Perhaps Blake could have held onto the ball for Johan Venegas’ goal – he initially pushed away quite a tame shot and Urena was able to assist Venegas for a straightforward finish. The double change made at half-time did little to impact proceedings as Jermaine Taylor and Mattocks struggled to adjust to the rhythm of the game. Nowhere near good enough from Schafer’s side, who drew to Costa Rica in Gold Cup group play just last year. Jamaica’s next fixture against Panama is going to be hugely significant in terms of determining who advances from Group B. Three points separate the two teams so the Boyz have to win in Panama City to keep their Russia 2018 dreams alive.
Panama – Haiti
29/03 – played in Panama City: 1-0 (Baloy 81′)
If the Haitians stood any real chance of making the ‘Hex’, then they really needed to claim victory here. Neveu made some selection changes, most notably bringing in Wilde Donald Gurrier and Pascal Millien to play off Maurice in attack. They possessed plenty of pace going forward, just not the final pass or cutting edge required. Reginald Goreux’s dismissal in the 68th minute after picking up two yellow cards only made Haiti’s task of getting something even more difficult. Panama piled on the pressure in the second half and they were eventually rewarded for their persistence. The veteran Felipe Baloy headed in from a corner and ultimately that goal proved decisive. If only Haiti could turn their chances into goals; they remain without one in this Round 4 qualifying campaign. Up next for them are Costa Rica (H) and Jamaica (A).
St Vincent & the Grenadines – Trinidad & Tobago
25/03 – played in Kingstown: 2-3 (M Samuel PK 45′, S Samuel 77′ – J Jones 58′, Garcia 71′, 82′)
This was a thrilling game of football which will mainly be remembered for the performance of 18-year-old Levi Garcia, who came off the bench to score twice and give his country three points on his senior debut for T&T. The AZ Alkmaar winger produced two moments of magic in the second half to somewhat overshadow what was a poor collective display from manager Stephen Hart’s side. Hart criticized his players attitude after the match, calling the organisation between midfield and [the] back-line “shocking” and claiming he “didn’t recognise some of the things” that the team were trying to do at all. Vincy Heat took the lead on the stroke of half-time, Myron Samuel coolly dispatched from the spot after his teammate David Pitt was brought down by Trinidadian custodian Marvin Phillip. Joevin Jones replied by scoring directly from a corner 13 minutes after the break. In the 62nd minute, Daneil Cyrus made way for Garcia who took the game by the scruff of its neck and drove his team forward. His first goal was excellently worked: a drop of the shoulder to come inside and then a fierce right-footed drive into the roof of the net. However, T&T completely lost concentration moments after and the scores were back level. The highly rated Oalex Anderson was picked out and he intelligently teed up fellow forward Shandel Samuel who couldn’t miss. You sensed that there’d be one more goal in this one. It was the Soca Warriors who got it – the two substitutes combined as Neveal Hackshaw found Garcia who steadied himself before calmly finishing past the goalkeeper. The former Central FC teenager had more or less single-handedly turned one point into three. I remember watching Garcia play and score for T&T’s U-20s against Guadeloupe a few years ago; he’s developed an awful lot since and doesn’t look at all out of place with the seniors. On a personal note, it was nice to see 2015 #CaribYoungStars picks Garcia, Anderson and Hackshaw all impress.
Guatemala – United States
25/03 – played in Guatemala City: 2-0 (Morales 7′, Ruiz 15′)
Trinidad & Tobago – St Vincent & the Grenadines
29/03 – played in Port of Spain: 6-0 (Bateau 36′, J Jones 49′, K Jones 60′, Molino 66′, Caesar 86′, 89′)
T&T were expected to deliver a much better performance at the Hasely Crawford Stadium and they did just that, rampantly putting six past a Vincentian side lacking in defensive communication and overall quality. Soca Warriors fans turned up in full force to show their support conscious of the fact that if their team won here, they’d be on 10 points and within touching distance of ‘Hex’ qualification. T&T dominated in terms of ball possession and chances created and, although they registered an impressive six goals, in reality they could have racked up even more. Sheldon Bateau proved an unlikely source for T&T’s opener as he fired in J Jones’ saved shot following an ambitious surge forward from the central defender. Just after the restart Vincy Heat could well have equalized, though, when Anderson broke free and squared for M Samuel whose effort could only clip the post. This was a warning sign for T&T with the likes of Anderson and Samuel able to fashion openings out of nothing. But Hart’s men responded by doubling their lead – the excellent J Jones unleashed a long-range strike which beat Lemus Christpher in the Vincentian goal. Captain K Jones made it three on the hour mark with a simple tap in, Kevin Molino added a fourth before substitute Trevin Caesar bagged a brace in the dying minutes to put the icing on the cake. Vincy Heat were taken apart defensively and their only offensive threat came through Seattle Sounders’ Anderson, who was very unlucky not to score at least once. It’s now mathematically impossible for them to progress. As for T&T, it was a fantastic team performance and result, one which lifts them onto 10 points with two games remaining against Guatemala (H) and USA (A). It’s well within their hands.
United States – Guatemala
29/03 – played in Columbus: 4-0 (Dempsey 12′, Cameron 35′, Zusi 46′, Altidore 89′)
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Stay tuned for the Round 4 Matchday Three Review coming out in September 2016. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.