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Sorting the CONCACAF nations on the road to Qatar 2022

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The United States men’s national team picked up a feel-good win over Mexico on Tuesday in Nashville, and there’s no reason to feel bad about enjoying the win.

Yet as general manager Earnie Stewart sorts through his options regarding the next full-time coach of the USMNT, where do the Yanks sit in the race to qualify for Qatar 2022?

[ MORE USMNT-MEXICO: 3 things | Player ratings ]

Yes, the World Cup is still going to Qatar. Yes, the games will be played in December in the middle of the night local time. Had to be said, again.

First and foremost, assuming the World Cup stays at 32 teams in the 3+1 CONCACAF qualifying format, who are the front-runners to make the Hex?

Let’s say the chalk plays out through qualifying and these 12 teams make the fourth round of qualifying. Since the Hex began for the 1998 cycle, the following nations have participated: USMNT (all), Mexico (all), Costa Rica (all), Honduras (4), Trinidad and Tobago (4), Panama (3), Jamaica (3), El Salvador (2), Guatemala (2006), Canada (1998).

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We still don’t know which U-20 sides will qualify for next summer’s U-20 World Cup — qualifying is in November — but the U.S. won the CONCACAF U-20 title in 2017, with Mexico winning the previous three, and Costa Rica before that. Panama were runners-up in 2015, so it’s a pretty good predictor of the pipeline.

Here are the current Elo Ratings and FIFA world rankings for CONCACAF sides:

Mexico — Elo 20, FIFA 16
USMNT — Elo 26, FIFA 22
Costa Rica — Elo 43, FIFA 32
Honduras — Elo 58, FIFA 61
Panama — Elo 63, FIFA 69
Jamaica — Elo 67, FIFA 54
Canada — Elo 73, FIFA 79
Guatemala — Elo 80, FIFA 146
Haiti — Elo 84, FIFA 104
El Salvador — Elo 87, FIFA 72
Trinidad and Tobago — Elo 96, FIFA 91
Curacao — Elo 132, FIFA 81

For now, we will only rank the sides who have qualified to a prior Hex, though Haiti has a chance to impress us and join in the next power rankings some time in the future.

Long shots: El Salvador, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica

Hex candidates: Panama, Canada, Honduras

Yes, Panama qualified for the World Cup, but it happened via a goal that never crossed the line and the poor performances of an American team that rarely showed up to work and a Honduran team which just couldn’t pull it together. Still, it’s best player at the World Cup were young: Ricardo Avila (21), Yoel Barcenas (24), and Jose Luis Rodriquez (20). Need to figure out life post-Felipe Baloy, Blas Perez, and (probably) Jaime Penedo.

Honduras is going to be in the discussion due to home field advantage alone. Even when Los Catrachos aren’t shining at San Pedro Sula, they are a handful. A bit longer in the tooth than you’d like for a tournament run, young forward Alberth Elis has to join Romell Quioto, Bryan Acosta, and Anthony Lozano in taking the next step.

The wild card here is Canada, which remains a green project and has new leadership in former WNT coach John Herdman. He will have a trio of teens at significant clubs when Alphonso Davies leaves Vancouver for Bayern Munich, joining Jonathan David at Gent and Liam Millar at Liverpool (Alessandro Busti is with Juventus B and Zahcary Brault-Guilard, Lyon). TFC’s Jonathan Osorio is in his prime, Cyle Larin isn’t there yet, and goalkeeper Milan Borjan starts on Red Star Belgrade.

Hex participants: Costa Rica, USMNT

Let’s start with the one of the bunch which played in the World Cup; Costa Rica is a difficult team to read. It will qualify for the Hex because it’s never failed to and it won’t be too old… yet. Of the 13 players to play more than 100 minutes for Los Ticos at the World Cup, only Joel Campbell and Francisco Calvo (both 26) were under the age of 28. All five players who manned all 270 minutes of the World Cup were 30 or older.

The reason the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for Russia was considered a disaster is that the Yanks should never, ever, ever miss a World Cup given their talent and resources. Even with Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore getting on in years for their respective positions, the new manager could instantly trot out this lineup in CONCACAF and not worry about experience or age (at least not too much, and we’re not yet including Geoff Cameron):

Steffen

Yedlin — Miazga — Brooks — Lichaj

Adams — D. Williams — McKennie

Pulisic — Altidore — Wood

Subs: Guzan, Acosta, Weah, Green, Bradley, Ream, Sargent

The unquestioned No. 1: Mexico

Sure the U.S. was missing big names Pulisic, Brooks, Cameron, Bradley, and Altidore in the 1-0 win over Mexico, but El Tri was without a whole lot more. Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, Diego Reyes, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Raul Jimenez, Carls Vela, Hirving Lozano, Chicharito (I’m just gonna stop now).

Mexico’s very best players are playing for some of the best clubs in the world, and Liga MX is still plenty ahead of MLS in depth and churning out youngsters.

Tunisia comes back to beat Panama

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Wahbi Khazri‘s 66th minute goal joined his assist on the scoresheet as Tunisia left the World Cup with a win, defeating Panama 2-1 on Thursday.

Fakhreddine Ben Youssef also scored for Tunisia, which conceded via an own goal.

Both teams were eliminated from knockout round contention before kickoff.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Panama took a surprising lead when Jose Luis Rodriguez’s shot was turned into the Tunisian goal by Yassine Meriah.

Tunisia went level when Khabri fed Ben Youssef in the 51st minute.

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That’s when Oussama Haddadi’s cross met Khazri at the back post to give the African side its second lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]  

England smash six past Panama to reach last 16

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  • Kane has eight goals in his last five games for England
  • Stones scores first two England goals; Lingard nets stunner
  • England qualify for last 16 of World Cup
  • Panama knocked out

England battered Panama 6-1 in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday, as the Three Lions qualified for the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup with a group game to spare.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

John Stones and Harry Kane both scored doubles (with headers and penalty kicks respectively) and Jesse Lingard scored a stunner in a stunning first half performance. Kane then completed his hat trick in the second half as he leads the World Cup in scoring with five goals.

This marked the first time England had scored four goals in a World Cup game since 1966, while Panama have crashed out of their first-ever World Cup after conceding nine goals and scoring just once through Felipe Baloy’s late consolation.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

England now face Belgium in Kaliningrad on Thursday in a clash for the top spot in Group G with both teams winning their opening two group games.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Early on Panama carved out a few decent chances but Godoy fired over from a great position on the left and soon after England were ahead.

A Kieran Trippier corner from the right found John Stones completely unmarked and the Man City center back headed home his first goal. England’s first three goals at the World Cup had all come from their first eight corner kicks.

Panama responded well to going behind as Barcenas curled a shot just wide of the far post but then the killer second goal arrived for England midway through the first half. Jesse Lingard made a perfectly timed run towards but was then hauled down by Escobar and a penalty kick was awarded.

Kane slammed home the spot kick to make it 2-0 as England were in cruise control.

Harry Maguire nodded a header onto the roof of the net from another set piece opportunity, while Panama occasionally looked dangerous on the break but didn’t have a shot on target in the first half.

England then scored a third as Lingard curled home a stunner after fine interplay with Raheem Sterling, and soon it was 4-0. A superbly worked free kick saw Stones head home from close distance and soon after it was 5-0. Both Stones and Kane were wrestled in the box by Panamanian defenders and the latter stepped up to smash home his second and England’s fifth as Panama were in tatters.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

After the break England continued to pour forward and Kane soon completed his hat trick.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s shot from distance deflected off Kane’s heel and flew in and moments later he was substituted with his job well and truly done.

Panama had a decent chance to grab a consolation goal but Jordan Pickford flew off his line to close the angle on Murillo, then skipper Roman Torres somehow side-footed wide from a corner late on.

However the consolation did arrive as Baloy finished superbly from a free kick to score Panama’s first-ever goal at a World Cup to at least give their fans something to celebrate in the 6-1 defeat.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.