The race to the 2022 World Cup finals is drawing to a close, with three rounds of games to be played in March to decide which nations from the CONCACAF region will head to Qatar in November.
How many CONCACAF nations qualify for the World Cup?
The top three nations in CONCACAF qualify directly to the World Cup, which begins on Nov. 21 and runs through to the final on Dec. 18.
The fourth-place nation in the region will face a playoff against the winner of the Oceania region, most likely New Zealand.
The playoff will be one match only, and will be hosted by Qatar. The fixture is scheduled to be played in June.
Which nations are still in contention?
Of the eight teams in the final stage of qualifying, El Salvador, Honduras and Jamaica have been eliminated.
That leaves Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and United States still with hopes of making the finals.
What are the remaining fixtures?
Canada vs. Jamaica
Honduras vs. Mexico
El Salvador vs. Costa Rica
United States vs. Panama
Panama vs. Canada
Jamaica vs. Honduras
Mexico vs. El Salvador
Costa Rica vs. United States
How each nation can qualify
1. Canada (25 points)
Coach John Herdman is all but certain to lead Canada to only its second men’s World Cup finals. The previous appearance came in 1986, when it lost all three matches to France, Hungary and Soviet Union without scoring a goal.
Unbeaten throughout all 11 matches so far in this phase, Canada is guaranteed at least fourth and the place in the intercontinental playoff.
Canada needs a maximum of two points to qualify automatically for the World Cup, but other results are likely to see it over the line even if it doesn’t achieve this.
Additionally, if Panama fails to win at home to Honduras on March 24, Canada needs only a point at Costa Rica that day to qualify.
2. United States (21)
The 3-0 win over Honduras on Feb. 2 put the United States firmly in control of its own destiny, but with all three remaining matches against qualification rivals — including away fixtures to two of the strongest CONCACAF nations, Mexico and Costa Rica — it cannot start planning for Qatar yet.
– Carlisle: USMNT relief after Honduras win
If USMNT fails to win in Mexico, it will really open up the group. Panama plays a Honduras team that hasn’t won any of its 11 matches, so victory for Panama would place it only one or two points behind the U.S. (Costa Rica would move close, too, if it beats Canada.) United States and Panama then would meet at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando on March 27; defeat for USMNT could leave it facing, at best, the intercontinental playoff.
However, the United States can allay most fears with victory at Mexico — that would leave coach Gregg Berhalter needing at most two points from the remaining two matches.
3. Mexico (21)
While it may seem as though Mexico’s task is the same as the United States’, with both on 21 points, El Tri coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has the benefit of, on paper, at least, a more favorable fixture list. After hosting the United States, Mexico then plays at bottom-of-the-table Honduras before completing its campaign at home to another already-eliminated team, El Salvador.
It means that failing to win on March 24 may not be so damaging to Mexico as it could be to USMNT.
If Mexico beats United States, it would need a maximum of two points to qualify for the finals. If Mexico draws against the U.S., it would need four points from the remaining fixtures. After a defeat, it would need to win both games to be certain, though again, other results may mean fewer would send it to the finals.
4. Panama (17)
Panama’s hopes of a second successive World Cup appear slim, and it has to win at home to Honduras on March 24 to retain any realistic chance of being, automatically, at least, at its second successive World Cup.
With a win at home to Honduras, Panama will be within touching distance of one, or both, of Mexico and the United States, depending on the result of that tie.
Its final two qualifiers are then against the top two nations in the group, and it would need at least a point at the U.S. before hosting Canada on March 30.
Its best hope would appear to be a USMNT defeat in Mexico, and then to avoid defeat in Orlando to take it to the final day. Victory at home to Canada could then send Panama to the World Cup if USMNT fails at Costa Rica.
5. Costa Rica (16)
Costa Rica, which has been at four of the past five World Cup finals, is up against it and must win all three games to have a realistic chance of qualifying automatically.
Three victories and a tally of 25 points gives it a shot, but it will also need one of Mexico or the United States to have poor results in the three matches. The fixture list suggests that is more likely to be the United States, so Costa Rica can only win its matches against Canada and El Salvador and hope it is within striking distance of USMNT when the two nations meet in the final qualifier on March 30.
Panama, of course, would also have a say in what Costa Rica may require should it go down to the final round of qualifiers.