The fourth round of CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualification is over. Success for Trinidad & Tobago, but disappointment for Jamaica, Haiti and St Vincent & the Grenadines…
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.
Honduras – Canada
02/09 – played in San Pedro Sula: 2-1 (Martinez 45+2′, Quioto 50′ — James 35′)
El Salvador – Mexico
02/09 – played in San Salvador: 1-3 (Larin PK 24′ — Moreno 52′, Sepulveda 58′, Jimenez PK 73′)
Mexico – Honduras
06/09 – played in Mexico City: 0-0
Canada – El Salvador
06/09 – played in Vancouver: 3-1 (Larin 11′, Ledgerwood 53′, Edgar 90+2′ — Bonilla 78′)
Haiti – Costa Rica
02/09 – played in Port-au-Prince: 0-1 (Azofeifa 71′)
Panama – Jamaica
02/09 – played in Panama City: 2-0 (G Torres 28′, Arroyo 90+2′)
The Reggae Boyz needed to take all three points in Panama City but their performance and the ensuing result were somewhat of an anti-climax. It’s not too often that goalkeeper Andre Blake comes in for criticism, but perhaps he should have done a better job with Gabriel Torres’ opener as the ball travelled straight down the middle. The stoppage time goal put the cherry on the cake for Panama and condemned Jamaica to mathematical elimination. Should Adrian Mariappa have started despite his recent lack of match sharpness instead of occupying a spot on the bench? Should Michael Hector have partnered interim captain Wes Morgan in central defence instead of playing central midfield? Did Lee Williamson really warrant a starting berth over the up-and-coming Omar Holness? These are pertinent questions which many Boyz supporters have been asking since the defeat. Now the performance had to be strong and full of pride against Haiti at Independence Park.
Jamaica – Haiti
06/09 – played in Kingston: 0-2 (Lafrance 68′, Nazon 88′)
Winfried Schafer was banned from taking charge of his team for this match because of unplugging the equipment cable of a media worker conducting an interview with fellow coach, Roy Simpson, at the Norman Manley International Airport on Saturday. Schafer has always been an eccentric character but he crossed the line there. But it might not be too long before Schafer is permanently removed as head coach following this dismal WCQ run. We will have to wait and see on that front. This result, though, was a turn up for the books. Second half goals from Kevin Lafrance and Duckens Nazon gave Haiti their first Round 4 victory and their first victory over the Jamaicans since 1984. Credit to them for producing such a performance given many of their key players were unavailable. This was an embarrassing result for Jamaica, who finished bottom of Group B on goal difference. Their last competitive goal came in March earlier this year (1-1 draw vs Costa Rica) and the last time they won a home World Cup qualifier was against Antigua & Barbuda in 2012. Time for an overhaul of Jamaican football?
Costa Rica – Panama
06/09 – played in San Jose: 3-1 (Bolanos 19′, 79′, Matarrita 84′ — Tejeda PK 90′)
St Vincent & the Grenadines – United States
02/09 – played in Kingstown: 0-6 (Wood 28′, Besler 32′, Altidore PK 43′, Pulisic 71′, 90+2′, Kljestan 78′)
On what was a national half day in St Vincent & the Grenadines, the national team were unable to pull off a historic victory over the USA. They were convincingly beaten although some of the goals were sloppily conceded and could have been avoided with a less erratic approach. Roy Richards’ dangerous foul for Jozy Altidore’s penalty, for example, was entirely unnecessary and pretty much signaled the end of the game with another half to play. Oalex Anderson and Myron Samuel showed glimpses of promise but none of their moves truly materialised into anything threatening. Substitute Tevin Slater had the best chance for SVG but he skewed his shot wide at the very end. The American teenager Christian Pulisic made an obvious difference off the bench – scoring two goals and setting up another – with his movement and creativity hard to stop. The game was almost played at walking speed in the latter stages as the hosts tired physically and mentally and the USA were all too happy to spray passes around.
Trinidad & Tobago – Guatemala
02/09 – played in Port of Spain: 2-2 (J Jones 45+1′, 62′ — Ruiz 36′, 87′)
This was far from a vintage Trinbagonian performance but the important thing here was that Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) achieved at least a point to guarantee their place at the Hex. Stephen Hart’s men looked sluggish in the first half and Joevin Jones’ goal on the stroke of half-time gave them a lift following Carlos Ruiz’s opener. Daneil Cyrus exploited the space down the right and swung in an inviting ball which Jones connected with. The Seattle Sounders man doubled his tally shortly after the hour mark when he stroked the ball into the bottom right corner using the outside of his boot. It looked as if T&T were going to win until the veteran midfielder Ruiz tucked away a rebound with three minutes of regulation time to go. The captain Kenwyne Jones spoke of the need to look at the bigger picture in his post-match press conference: the fact that the Soca Warriors are in the Hex with a match to spare. Next up? The USA in Jacksonville for a chance to finish top of Group C.
United States – Trinidad & Tobago
06/09 – played in Jacksonville: 4-0 (Kljestan 44′, Altidore 59′, 63′, Arriola 71′)
The Warriors didn’t deserve to win. As simple as that. They actually began really well – on the front foot, circulating the ball with precision and panache. But they let the USA get a foothold and never really found the same level thereafter. Kljestan’s goal on the stroke of half-time could have been dealt with a lot better, however, both Radanfah Abu Bakr and Khaleem Hyland failed to clear their lines. Then a flurry of second half goals finished them off. T&T’s forward players struggled to impose themselves. Kevin Molino occasionally linked up the play but was on the whole very quiet, similar to four days earlier. The talented teenager Levi Garcia came across as a bit nervous and his touch was never quite sharp enough. J Jones was the only player who took initiative, carried the ball forward and looked to penetrate the opposition. This was a wake-up call for T&T. They can’t afford to play and lose the same way in the Hex. And, for what it’s worth, I think Hart will have them much better prepared for that situation.
Guatemala – St Vincent & the Grenadines
06/09 – played in Guatemala City: 9-3 (Tinoco 13′, Ruiz 20′, 27′, 36′, 57′, 59′, Arreola 55′, Morales 78′, Marquez 83′ — Anderson 10′, 29′, McBurnette 90′)
What a game this was for the neutral spectator: a 12-goal thriller. Vincy Heat gave it a real go but you can’t expect to concede nine goals, particularly away from home, and a win a football match. Guatemala gave it a real go, too, knowing that if they scored at least 12 goals and Trinidad & Tobago beat the USA then they’d progress to the next phase. Anderson underlined why he’s such an important player for his country by bragging a brace – his first goal actually put the visitors ahead. Yet SVG’s porous defence once again proved the problem and they looked fatigued with 20-25 minutes remaining. They finished the group on a -28 goal difference, however, they must try to take the positives from this campaign. Okay, they were heavily beaten in the majority of their matches. But they gave T&T a run for their money in Arnos Vale and the likes of Anderson, Samuel, Slater, Cornelius Stewart and Darren Hamlet are useful players against Caribbean opposition. They just need to work on their mental concentration, physical fitness and defensive solidity. What’s more, it is unclear whether Wady Jackson is the manager on an interim or permanent basis. Nothing official has been announced since Cornelius Huggins was relieved of his duties after March’s round of fixtures.
Note: () indicates the number of points that country has accumulated.
Group A: 1. Mexico (16) 2. Honduras (8) 3. Canada (7) 4. El Salvador (2)
Group B: 1. Costa Rica (16) 2. Panama (10) 3. Haiti (4) 4. Jamaica (4)
Group C: 1. USA (13) 2. T&T (11) 3. Guatemala (10) 4. SVG (0)
Hexagonal: Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, USA, T&T
By Nathan Carr