EXCITEMENT APPROACHING AS THE CONCACAF WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS CONTINUES…
Round five of the Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers are about to kick off this month. The six remaining teams from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean will continue their fight for a spot in the next global football tournament to be held in Russia.
Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago, and the USA will all continue their journey in this preliminary competition on a league table format. The top three teams are guaranteed a spot in World Cup 2018, and the fourth place a chance to compete in the intercontinental playoff for a remaining place in the tournament.
Costa Rica – Leading the pack
Costa Rica leads the pack with 2 wins in round 5. The first one a 2-0 win against Trinidad & Tobago, and a staggering victory over the USA of 4-0. Costa Rica is in great shape having scored the most goals. The “ticos” have seen the net 6 times, 4 times more than second place Mexico. This shows the team’s great balance, with a mix of a great offense and a great defense. Their tactical formation by coach Oscar Ramirez is what allows this great functionality to happen. Costa Rica uses a 5-2-3 formation, where the defensive backs act more like wingers and go up the pitch to provide support on attack, creating a very offensive 3-2-5 formation. Costa Rica usually handles this transition very quickly due to the amazing talent of their midfield led by Celso Borges, Bolaños, and Bryan Ruiz, who with the support of the wingers are able to build plays quickly or attack from the sidelines using their speed to develop dangerous crosses. This plus the talent that Joel Campbell has been providing as an impact sub in the last games, entering the match as a power striker, has allowed the Costa Rican national team, led by Real Madrid star goalkeeper Keylor Navas, a quality of play, that has not been rivaled by any of the other teams in the competition so far.
Mexico – A rough start for the Concacaf giants
Mexico, the team that historically has lead the area in football competitions, has been off to a rough start in round 5 of the Concacaf qualifiers. The team with talents and international stars such as Chicharito Hernandez, Giovanni dos santos, Héctor Moreno, and Veteran captain Rafael Marquéz has not been able to achieve the high level of play that is expected of them under Juan Carlos Osorio.
Osorio has been working with a 4-1-2-3. With a back four led by Márquez on a defensive midfielder position, the Dos Santos brothers as the two offensive midfielders, and Marco Fabian, Hernandez, and emerging star, Tecatito Corona, in the attacking lines. Despite the big names that appear on the lineup, the team hasn’t managed to really connect so far and develop a high- quality level of football. This is probably because Osorio has rotated his starting eleven in the last games. Osorio has not used the same starting eleven in two consecutive matches since he took over the Tri, and many feel this is one of the reasons why the team hasn’t been able to play to its full potential.
Panama – Pressuring for a spot in the cup
Panama so far has a tie against Mexico and a win against Honduras, that has allowed them to earn a third-place spot on the table. Nothing spectacular from “Los Canaleros” in regards of playing style, but they do practice some very effective football. Colombian coach, Hernan Dario Gomez, uses a 4-4-2 that can quickly become a 4-2-4 on attack or even when defending to pressure the opponent high up the pitch. This pressure has proven to be very effective during the last two matches. It didn’t allow Mexican players to comfortably build up play during possession. Against Honduras, they didn’t just manage to destroy their game, but they were also able to recover many balls close to their opponent’s goal that ended up in a high amount of fast scoring opportunities. This tactic eventually gave them the winning goal in the complicated stadium of San Pedro Sula. With a solid formation and the talent of an experienced, tremendously strong, and fast player like Blas Perez, Panama is certainly a team to watch out for..
Honduras – Not a bad start, but with some tough opponents ahead
Although Honduras managed to win their first game Against Trinidad & Tobago by a score of 3-1, they suffered a tough loss at home against Panama, putting them on a difficult road for a spot in the World Cup 2018 Tournament. Their next match is against “a desperate for a win”, USA. After that they will meet leaders, Costa Rica and next up they will have to travel to Aztec Stadium to meet Mexico. With some tough games ahead, and despite using a back line of 5 players and two defensive midfielders, the team’s defense seems fragile, especially when defending set pieces or counter attacks. When the team has the ball though, they are able to create good clear chances against opponents, and with quality offensive players like Maynor Figueroa, Andy Najar, and Roger Espinosa, “Los catrachos” can certainly earn a spot in World Cup 2018, Russia.
Trinidad & Tobago – Fighting against all odds
Trinidad & Tobago started the hexagonal tournament with 2 losses. Allowing five goals in two matches and only being able to score once, the Caribbean’s future does not look promising in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. They have tried using a 4-4-2 formation that at times becomes a 4-5-1, looking to hold back opponents and defend for most of the match, while waiting for the right opportunity to deliver a ball on counter attack to their only star, veteran striker, Jenwyne Jones. With the statistics against them, and few arguments in their favor, they are certainly the weakest team at this stage of the competition. Trinidad & Tobago are certainly fighting against all odds for a chance at a surprising spot in the next World Cup.
USA – A crucial moment for the men’s national team
The USA has been off to one of its worst starts in world cup qualifying history. The have lost their first two matches in this round, the last one, by a catastrophic score of 4-0 in Costa Rica. With coach Bruce Arena coming back, there is much work to be done in order for the American team to be able to grab a spot in Russia 2018. In an attempt to create a more offensive USA team that historically has been known to play and ordered, practical, defensive style of football; coach Jurgen Klinsmann, decided to opt for a 3-4-3 approach. This caused more problems than answers for the USA Soccer team. At many times during matches the team was not able to handle transitions, especially the defensive ones, with players not knowing which spot in the field they were supposed to come back to cover. The team would leave many gaps and open spaces on opposing counter attacks that teams like Costa Rica took advantage of to create dangerous chances.
On the offensive side, the team wasn’t able to do much either. Klinsmann tried a more possession minded approach to his offense, which completely backfired, because he simply did not have the players required for such an approach. The result left players like Bradley and Jones completely lost in the midfield losing balls and allowing opposing counter attacks.
Now is the time for the USA Soccer team to go back to its roots, perhaps a to 4-4-2 formation with Arena. Offering solid defending and quick counter attacks taking advantage of the speed and offensive power that players like Altidore, Bobby Wood and rising star Christian Pulisic can offer. The USA is certainly at a crucial moment, as it desperately needs to recover its identity and be able to obtain points in the next matches to have a shot at grabbing a spot in the next world cup.
With plenty of matches still to go in this round of five, anything is possible; surely, we will have more excitement coming our way as all six teams fight for a spot in the world’s most prestigious football tournament.
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