CONCACAF World Cup qualifying

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USMNT finishes 2019 as FIFA’s 22nd ranked team

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Belgium finishes the year in the No. 1 slot on FIFA’s rankings, something the Red Devils will hope is a harbinger of what’s to come at EURO 2020.

France, Brazil, England, and Uruguay finish second through fifth.

The United States men’s national team finishes the year at No. 22, up three spots from 2018. It’s their highest year-end finish since 2013 (14th) and one spot ahead of their all-time average spot.

The Yanks are ranked 39th by EloRatings, generally considered to be a fairer approximation of strength.

[ RELATED: Grading the USMNT’s 2019 ]

FIFA’s December release sees very few changes, and minimal ones at that. South Korea moves up a spot to 40th, South Africa up one to 71st, and Bolivia nudges its way into the Top 75.

China sinks to 76th, while only one nations moves more than a single spot. Hong Kong dips two to No. 141,

The new rankings again show which CONCACAF nations are on track to participate in the Hex.

El Salvador pulls into sixth place amongst CONCACAF teams with only six months to go until the rankings decide which six teams qualify for the Hex.

Mexico holds tight at 11, while the USMNT sits 22nd. Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras would join El Salvador to round out the Hex if it started today. That would leave Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago playing in the second group of World Cup qualifying.

The winner of that group would play in the playoff against the fourth-place team from the Hex, with the winner of that match playing an interconfederation playoffs for a spot in Qatar 2022.

USWNT World Cup qualifying preview: It’s happening

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Let’s start here: The United States women’s national team is either going to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, or get everyone at U.S. Soccer fired.

Everyone.

While there’s been progress in CONCACAF women’s soccer, the USMNT and Canada dominance remains on a level unlike most confederations.

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ESPN’s Paul Carr summed it up nicely while I was working on this particular post. Take a look.

Almost always held on home soil, the tournament plays right into the hands of the U.S. and Canada regardless of how the groups are drawn.

The top two teams in each group make the semifinals, and the teams that win their semi move on. If a favorite is upset in the semi, they simply have to avoid being upset in the third place game.

That means a USWNT team that has lost one of 28 matches in the tournament would have to lose of two in-a-row (or fail even more miserably against inferior group stage opponent). And the chances of the women sleepwalking into the tournament are very slim, given the Yanks didn’t even advance to play for a medal at the 2016 Olympics.

The USWNT has not lost in 2018, only drawing twice in 13 matches.

Their group mates are Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The USWNT beat Mexico 6-2 and 4-1 in April. T&T lost 5-1 to Mexico in May. Panama is a league below Mexico, too.

Oh and in terms of long time rivals Canada? A 3-1 win and 1-1 draw in their last two meetings.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch, or that the matches won’t be entertaining. The U.S. is bringing six attackers with a total of 308 international goals to go with only five roster members featuring 25 caps or fewer.

What it does mean is that the 2019 World Cup is gonna happen for the confident U.S., don’t worry. If it doesn’t, a lot of people get canned. And none of them are going to sleep anxious tonight despite that reality, but they’ll also have learned the lessons the men have not.

Please don’t read this as a cocky tone, rather measured and honest. It would probably be the second most stunning negative moment in U.S. Soccer history if the women failed to qualify for France.

CAF qualifying roundup: Senegal reaches World Cup; Nigeria, Algeria draw

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A third African nation earned its place in Russia next summer, leaving just two more spots in CAF World Cup qualifying up for grabs.

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Senegal became that third nation on Friday after picking up a 2-0 win over South Africa in Group D play.

First-half goals from Diafre Sakho and an own goal by South Africa’s Thamsanqa Mkhize ensured the Lions of Teranga would represent Africa in 2018 — the country’s second-ever World Cup appearance (2002).

Senegal reached the quarterfinals back in 2002 in its only previous appearance in FIFA’s most-prestigious tournament after going unbeaten in the group stage and getting past Sweden in the Round of 16.

Meanwhile, Nigeria — who already qualified for Russia — settled for a 1-1 draw against Algeria.

John Ugo gave the Nigerians the advantage just beyond the hour mark, while Yacine Brahim pulled the two nations level in the 88th minute after converting from the penalty spot.

Friday’s scores

South Africa 0-2 Senegal

Algeria 1-1 Nigeria

Costa Rica-Honduras to be played Saturday due to tropical storm

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Costa Rica will have to wait an extra day to attempt to earn its place in next summer’s World Cup.

Tropical storm Nate has caused Friday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier between Los Ticos and Honduras to be moved back to Saturday as the dangerous weather passes through Central America.

[ MORE: Previewing the USMNT’s WCQ match against Panama ]

Costa Rica soccer federation chief Rodolfo Villalobos announced the decision to alter the match’s timing on Thursday night as a precautionary measure.

The qualifying fixture will take place at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica.

Los Ticos need just one point out of their final two WCQ matches to join Mexico in Russia next summer as representatives from CONCACAF. Costa Rica currently sits second on points in the qualifying process, while Honduras is in fifth place.

Watch live — USMNT visits Honduras in must-win CONCACAF WCQ

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We already know that one team from CONCACAF has booked its place in next year’s World Cup, but two more automatic qualifying spots are up for grabs.

However, that number could be down to one by the end of Tuesday. Mexico has ensured its place in the field of 32 in Russia, but Costa Rica could join El Tri on the road to the World Cup with a win at the Estadio Nacional.

[ WATCH: All three matches live streamed on Telemundo ]

All eyes will be on San Pedro Sula though, as the U.S. Men’s National Team needs a win to keep its 2018 hopes alive. Bruce Arena and Co. cannot be eliminated with a loss, but it would certainly make the task of reaching Russia much, much more difficult.

Finally, a loss for Trinidad & Tobago could theoretically spell the end of their hopes of finishing in the top three.

Here’s a look at the CONCACAF table as things stand.

  1. Mexico (QUALIFIED) — 17 points (+8 GD)
  2. Costa Rica — 14 points (+7 GD)
  3. USMNT — 8 points (+1 GD)
  4. Honduras — 8 points (-7 GD)
  5. Panama — 7 points (-1 GD)
  6. Trinidad & Tobago — 3 points (-8 GD)

[ MORE: Three major storylines for the USMNT ahead of Honduras clash ]

Below is Tuesday’s schedule for Matchday 8 of CONCACAF WCQ.

Honduras vs. USMNT — 5:36 p.m. ET
Costa Rica vs. Mexico — 10:05 p.m. ET
Panama vs. Trinidad & Tobago — 10:05 p.m. ET