The excitement is building up as the 2018 World Cup inches closer amid all the qualifying games that have unfolded. Another set of points was on the line this week for countries to battle it out to keep their qualification hopes alive. Closer to home in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), we saw different powerhouses have eye-opening outcomes.
Mexico has been the most efficient team in the CONCACAF, having received no losses thus far. The road to the World Cup for Mexico four years ago was a rough one, as it only amounted to two victories in qualifying play. Today, after just the fourth game of these qualifiers, it has surpassed that mark with three. El Tri took care of business at home by picking up a win against Costa Rica and going on the road to beat Trinidad and Tobago.
On the other hand, it is the United States that is performing poorly in the early going. This ultimately led to the firing of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and brought back Bruce Arena, a familiar face, to take the helm. Things were steering back in the right direction on his official first day as head coach when the United States thumped Honduras, 6-0.
This performance couldn’t be any more convincing; but then came Tuesday, a road game in Panama. Los Canaleros surely hadn’t forgotten what the Americans did to them four years ago in crushing their World Cup dreams on the very last day of play. As the world has grown accustom to seeing, the United States once again struggled on Central American soil. Panama put up a valiant effort by ending the game with a draw, which has only amounted to more pressure on the United States.
In 2013, it was the Americans who were winning while Mexico found itself on the verge of being eliminated. It is simply amazing how the roles have been reversed in these World Cup qualifiers. Now four games in, the United States has to assess what has gone wrong before it digs itself a hole that it cannot get out from.
Meanwhile in South America, has there been any team who has been more dominant on the road to the World Cup than Brazil? After Tuesday, with four games to spare, the Seleção became the first team to qualify for next year’s tournament. Not even in Europe, with the likes of Germany, England, Spain and France, have we seen a team stamp its ticket to Russia. There is only one thing on Brazil’s mind, and that is to redeem itself from the ugly exit it experienced in 2014.
Brazil’s archrival, Argentina, quickly found out how difficult it was to play without its superstar Lionel Messi. Bolivia, which was already eliminated from World Cup contention, was supposed to be any easy opponent for Argentina; but instead, La Verde pulled off the shocking upset. Alarming as that sounds, El Albiceleste will also not count on Messi for the next three qualifying games due to a four-game suspension for verbally insulting a referee last week against Chile.
Trouble awaits for Argentina as it sits fifth in the CONMEBOL standings, and even with all of its glory, the culture won’t carry them to the World Cup. Argentina’s talent is more than capable of putting these these types of teams away, but is unexpectedly struggling to even perform well against weaker opponents. The rest of the road to Russia will surprisingly be a rocky one for Argentina and the United States. Both have to ignite a spark and play with a sense of urgency, or else we’ll be looking at next year’s tournament with an empty feeling.
Everyone, even those who show no interest in the years leading up to the tournament has a country they root for in the World Cup. But what makes a team like the United States so special is that we can identify with the national team. Not only do we invest our fandom and interest for a moment, but we support the team because of what each individual believes the country represents at an event like the World Cup.
Contact Oscar Oxlaj at [email protected]