FIFA WORLD CUP
Mexico vs USMNT: What does each team need to qualify to 2022 World Cup?
The latest round of CONCACAF qualifying throws up the USMNT against Mexico and Canada hosting El Tri in a crucial few days for the World Cup hopefuls.
Three of the favourites for qualification from the CONCACAF third round – Mexico, the USA and Canada - currently occupy the top three places in the eight-team group after six matchdays. Mexico currently lead the table with 14 points while the USMNT are second on 11 and Canada are third on 10, with the top three sides qualifying automatically for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Although there are still eight games remaining in the Octagonal and Honduras, El Salvador and Panama have all taken points from the current top three, few would bet against the status quo at the top of the table remaining the same when the dust settles on the mini-tournament in March 2022.
In 2018, the USMNT failed to reach the World Cup in Russia after losing in the Hexagonal to Trinidad and Tobago, a result that even left the traditional regional powerhouse out of the inter-confederation playoff, which Honduras lost to Australia. It was the first time since 1986 that the USA had failed to qualify for the World Cup finals and evidence that the CONCACAF route is no longer a foregone conclusion. Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama eventually went through directly to Russia 2018.
What do CONCACAF sides need to reach the World Cup?
The top three sides in the CONCACAF group automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fourth-placed nation will go into the draw for the inter-confederation playoffs, which is a four-team shoot-out for the final two places at the 2022 World Cup. The games are two-legged ties, home and away, with the winner earning qualification for the finals. As well as the CONCACAF representative, there will be one country each from CONMEBOL, AFC and OFC.
What do Mexico and USA need to do to qualify directly?
With six games played and eight remaining there are still 24 points on the table so it’s a little early to suggest any one side is in the driving seat. However, the USA and Canada have already played one of their fixtures, a 1-1 draw in Nashville last month, leaving three direct matches between the USA and their current main rivals.
The USMNT face Mexico in Cincinnati on Friday with the return fixture set for March 24, 2022, on matchday 12. Had they taken six points from Panama and Costa Rica in their last two matches the USMNT would be level on points with in Cincinnati, but the visitors can set one foot on the plane for Qatar if they are victorious given they would hold a six-point advantage over the USA with a home game remaining against Berhalter's side, who also still have to travel to Canada.
The USMNT can of course turn the group around again quite quickly by beating Mexico on Friday and then getting a result against Jamaica in Kingston. Were Canada to beat Mexico at home in matchday 8, the USMNT could be three points clear of Mexico at the top of the table with Canada potentially in second place and only a point behind if they beat Costa Rica and Gerardo Martino's side, with Les Rouges at home for both of those fixtures.
As there will be six games to play after this round of qualifiers anything can still happen in the CONCACAF third round, but the way the fixtures have fallen in November could well make the picture clearer before the next set of matches in January.