The preliminary draw for Rounds 3 and 4 of CONCACAF WCQ officially took place at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia on Saturday. Here are the outcomes…
Background: There are five rounds in CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualification (WCQ), spanning across 33 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 playoff versus OFC’s equivalent.
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?
Procedure: Secretary General of FIFA, Jerome Valcke, was in charge of the whole process with 2006 World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and 2015 Beach Soccer World Cup champion Joao Victor Saraiva, nicknamed Madjer, joining him to complete the draw. There were two pots (3-4) involving a total of 12 teams with the seeding based on each team’s ranking within FIFA in August 2014. Both pots were separated and Cannavaro took one team from pot 3, one team from pot 4 and placed them into a central container where the first country to be drawn would host the first leg. These fixtures will take place in August/September 2015. The six play-off winners will qualify for Round 4.
Match 1: Curacao v El Salvador
Ideally Patrick Kluivert’s men wanted to avoid Central American opposition, but they still stand a legitimate chance of springing a surprise against the El Salvadorians, who struggled to get to grips with St Kitts & Nevis in the previous round. Maybe some more Dutch-based professionals with Curacaoan roots will be persuaded to jump on board to further strengthen Curacao’s squad.
Match 2: Canada v Belize
There will be more pressure on Canada to deliver, however, Belize – who looked in good shape against Dominican Republic in the second round – cannot be underestimated. This should be an intriguing contest.
Match 3: Grenada v Haiti
Les Grenadiers will be heavy favourites in this one, likely to be fresh after an impressive Gold Cup where they reached the last eight. Grenada will require a sprinkling of overseas-based experience to supplement their predominantly domestic-based player pool if they are to compete.
Match 4: Jamaica v Nicaragua
They could have received better, yet they could have received worse too. Jamaica should feel confident about advancing with a group of players in wonderful form and potentially a Gold Cup trophy to their name (at the time of writing, they play the final tomorrow). The aim is to reach the Hex like in 2014, but this time go all the way to the World Cup.
Match 5: St Vincent & the Grenadines v Aruba
Both of these teams entered WCQ in the previous round: St Vincent progressed on away goals while Aruba benefited from Barbados’ expulsion. Perhaps the edge is with Vincy Heat due to their firepower in attack and ability to outscore their opponents.
Match 6: Antigua & Barbuda v Guatemala
Bermuda showed in June’s batch of games that Caribbean sides can more than match Guatemala, who scraped through 1-0 on aggregate. The Benna Boys will no doubt call up a strong squad packed with overseas-based players, but they’ll have to acclimatize to the high humidity and altitude levels ahead of playing the return fixture in Guatemala City. That will be crucial to their success.
Procedure: This round works on a home-and-away, round-robin basis with each team playing a total of six matches. There were two pots (1-2) with pot 1 involving teams ranked 1-3 in CONCACAF and pot 2 involving teams ranked 4-6. There are three groups (A-C) of four with the teams ranked 1-3 taking up the A1, B1 and C1 spots, and the others taking up the A2, B2 and C2 spots. These fixtures will take place from November 2015 to September 2016. The three group winners and three runners-up will qualify for the Hex.
Group A: Mexico, Honduras, Curacao/El Salvador, Canada/Belize
There will be one Caribbean representative in Group A, and that’s only if Curacao overcome El Salvador. It’s expected that Mexico will finish top with second place up for grabs – Honduras are in a rut and Canada, who are likely to be involved, shouldn’t be approached with any great deal of trepidation.
Group B: Costa Rica, Panama, Grenada/Haiti, Jamaica/Nicaragua
This has all the ingredients for a fascinating battle. Costa Rica and Panama are evenly matched and Jamaica have shown that they’re now on the same level, while Haiti, expected to oust Grenada, keep on growing and growing. Very hard to call.
Group C: USA, Trinidad & Tobago, St Vincent & the Grenadines/Aruba, Antigua & Barbuda/Guatemala
This group will have the highest proportion of Caribbean teams. USA will fancy their chances of finishing first, T&T have the capacity to upset the odds while any of the remaining four sides could in theory spring a surprise. What action we have in store.
By Nathan Carr