After today, we’re almost done with the marathon known as World Cup qualifying. All that’s left are the European second-place playoffs and the second-leg of African playoffs next month. November also gives us the fifth-placed South American finisher against Jordan in a two-leg playoff, along with the fourth-placed CONCACAF finisher (Mexico as of this morning) against New Zealand.
Fourteen teams have already qualified, including the United States. Seven spots will be decided today, leaving 11 open.
Here are five things to keep an eye on in qualifiers around the world today.
What about Bob?
Former U.S. National Team coach Bob Bradley and Egypt are on the verge of their first World Cup since 1990. After all the political turmoil and social unrest in the country, standing between the Pharaohs and a trip to Brazil is Ghana — a team Bradley is more than familiar with, considering the Black Stars knocked out the U.S. at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Something says if Egypt wins this playoff, it’ll be placed in the same group as the United States. Call it fate.
beIN Sports will air the match starting at 11:55 a.m.
England, oh England
As American soccer fans, it’s fun to laugh at the continual foibles of the England National Team from afar. The Three Lions can never get out of their own way, providing non-stop comedy fodder. England need to beat Poland at Wembley to ensure a place in Brazil. A draw won’t be enough since Ukraine, one point behind England, is playing San Marino — an automatic win.
England missing out on the World Cup would be great, but it’ll be much more fun to see them wilt in the tropical heat next June.
Mexico was a Raul Jimenez bicycle kick away from World Cup elimination. Had Friday’s game with Panama ended 1-1, odds are El Tri would have finished fifth in the CONCACAF Hex. Now Mexico controls its own destiny if it beats Costa Rica . In order for Panama to get in, it has to beat the U.S. by at least three goals to trump Mexico on goal difference, assuming El Tri loses.
El Tri is close, but considering how crummy their 2013 has been beating Costa Rica on the road is anything but a sure thing.
It would have been fascinating had the Mexico/Panama game ended 1-1. The teams would have been level on goal difference, with Panama hosting the U.S. tonight (9:25, beIN). It would never happen and Jurgen Klinsmann is on record saying he’ll play his best lineup available, yet wouldn’t it have been awesome if the U.S. played at half-speed, allowing Panama to thump them, knocking Mexico out in the process? It’s probably not worth compromising your integrity even to bone over your biggest rival, is it?
Consider this scenario: suppose Costa Rica takes an early lead on Mexico and that information trickles down to the field in Panama. Would the U.S. adjust their game plan? The final U.S. qualifier for the 2010 World Cup included Jonathan Bornstein’s last-second goal that knocked out Costa Rica out of the automatic qualifying spot, giving it to Honduras.
What’s going to stop this from happening is the U.S. still has the tiniest of shots at a World Cup seed, so it needs to win more than it needs to try to ruin Mexico’s chances.
By the time 2014 gets around, there will be so much written about Belgium — which qualified Friday — they’ll go from underrated to overrated with all sorts of hipster backlash in the process. If there’s a team to support for 2014 if you want to be different, it’s Bosnia, which is a win over Lithuania away from its first World Cup independent of Yugoslavia. Bosnia is level with Greece, which plays tiny Lichtenstein. Bosnia has the superior goal-difference, so with a win, it’s in.
Good job, Ecuador
Ecuador is on the verge of a World Cup place. With a win or draw with Chile on Tuesday, Ecuador is in. Ecuador is three points clear of Uruguay with a +5 goal difference. Uruguay, which plays Argentina, is at -1. So Ecuador is basically in.
Should it qualify, Ecuador would be a good story. After their 1-0 win over Uruguay last week it was revealed all the players were wearing a shirt with the image of their late teammate Chucho Benitez, who died earlier this year after playing a game in Qatar.