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CONCACAF Provides No Minnows in World Cup Qualifying

El Tri sits atop CONCACAF in World Cup Qualifying table

Even the minnows act like piranhas in CONCACAF. That much was evident Thursday night during the first matches of the region’s World Cup qualifying octagon round. 

Mexico was minutes away from utter panic as Jamaica threatened to escape from Azteca Stadium with a point. Henry Martin’s rocket in the 89th minute saved El Tri coach Tata Martino from the ultimate hot seat, if not dismissal.

After losing consecutive tournament finals against the rival United States this summer, Martino could hardly afford a misstep. His side struggled to finish. El Tri couldn’t have been pleased with their performance, yet it could have been worse. Mexico was the only triumphant CONCACAF side.

El Tri were the fortunate ones. The United States. wasn’t. El Salvador, which is No. 64 in the FIFA rankings, held the No. 10 ranked U.S. to a scoreless draw at Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador.

The Salvadorans actually held 51 percent of the possession on a night they had only one shot on target. Despite a much superior lineup on paper, the U.S. had only two shots on target. Heck, El Salvador even led in corner kicks, 5-3, with an offense led by a striker from USL.

As bad as it may have felt for El Tri fans, Mexico at least beat FIFA’s No. 50 ranked team 2-1.

Mexico builds confidence

“We won it well,” Martino said afterward. “In all the qualifiers you suffer, and we gave a good step toward regaining confidence.”

Sure enough, El Tri’s confidence has been shaken lately after losing the Nations Cup and the Gold Cup finals to the U.S.

El Tri heads into the second match of the octagonal round Sunday atop the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying table with three points. 

The U.S., Honduras, Canada, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama are all tied for second with one point apiece. Jamaica is last in eight place, but the Reggae Boyz can find comfort knowing they played well at Azteca.

Martino and his players also can find comfort knowing they survived the first of two home matches they must play without fans in the stands. Azteca Stadium is famously one of the most difficult venues for opponents, but it was rather toothless without fans. 

Empty Azteca Stadium

Mexico must play two national team home games without fans after FIFA punished El Tri for their fans’ continued use of an infamous gay slur.

With no boisterous crowd to jeer the ref after tough calls or pressure the visitors, the Mexico-Jamaica game had the feel of a scrimmage.

None of the other visitors enjoyed their time as well as Jamaica, but at least those other visitors earned a point each. Honduras and Canada tied at 1 in Toronto. Costa Rica picked up a point on the road with a scoreless draw against Panama.

A point on the road is considered a positive result in World Cup qualifying. Now Mexico heads to Costa Rica on Sunday. The U.S. will be in Nashville against Canada. Panama heads to Jamaica while Honduras visits El Salvador.

If history is any indication, there will be no gimmes in CONCACAF this Sunday either.

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