World Cup qualifying sways from frenetic to frantic | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerWorld Cup qualifying sways from frenetic to frantic

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | 10:19 AM

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Carlos Salcido (3) of Mexico and Clinton Dempsey of the U.S. jockey for position in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at The Azteca. (Miguel Tovar/Getty Images) Carlos Salcido (3) of Mexico and Clinton Dempsey of the U.S. jockey for position in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier at The Azteca. (Miguel Tovar/Getty Images)

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Three games into CONCACAF's final qualifying round, the jockeying for position is becoming frenetic if not, at times, frantic.

The Road to Rio has some potholes which need filling.

Quickly.
 
Three games into CONCACAF's final qualifying round -- aka The Hex -- the jockeying for position is becoming frenetic. Six nations are vying for three guaranteed berths in Brazil, while the country finishing fourth will face a nerve wracking, two-legged eliminator against New Zealand.

There is a long way to go.

At this stage, winning clinches nothing while, by the same token, losing is not terminal.

However, dropping points at this stage of the game has a way of coming back to bite you when it really matters down the stretch.

Mexico in a muddle
 
Exhibit A: Mexico. The Kings of CONCACAF are struggling. Against all reasonable logic, the regional soccer giants are still searching for their first win. More shocking is the fact two of those games have taken place in one of the world's most intimidating soccer fortresses.
 
There are few more impressive sights in football than the Azteca Stadium. It is a soccer cathedral where the masses flock to pay homage. Boasting a huge capacity in excess of 100 thousand, it is a cauldron of noise, fervour and fanaticism. With such overwhelming support, the national team -- El Tri -- almost always delivers. Not this time.

Mexico has failed to score a single goal in its opening two home games and the natives are restless. A lacklustre stalemate against Jamaica was certainly not expected; now the Americans have rubbed salt in the wound by grinding out another goalless result, earning a point with a disciplined and determined performance.
 
Mexico is in a muddle. A glance at the standings confirms the collective problem. For a nation which views World Cup qualification as more or less a sure thing, there is plenty of work to be done in the coming months to ensure El Tri is on the plane to Brazil.
 
Three straight ties is not going to get the job done. It is the sort of sequence that costs people their jobs. Little wonder head coach Jose de la Torre felt the need to confront the referee at the final whistle. His team may not have been able to score from open play, but the denial of what appeared a clear penalty was too much for the Mexican manager.
 
In Mexico, the inquests are only just beginning. Sven Goran Eriksson did not survive the qualifying process in the lead-up to the last World Cup and unless de la Torre can get his players firing quickly, his tenure may also be cut short.

Results are paramount
 
A different picture is emerging north of the Rio Grande. A week ago, Jurgen Klinsmann's handling of the United States national team was under intense scrutiny. Player selection and team tactics were being called into question amid rumours he had lost the dressing room.
 
That line of enquiry will be rested -- at least for now. Klinsmann answered his critics by collecting four points out of six in trying circumstances. The Americans first overcame the snow and Costa Rica to win the home opener, then secured only their second-ever qualifying point in Mexico City. It wasn't by any means pretty, but results are paramount and Klinsmann must be given due credit.
 
He is also learning about the potential of his players. Omar Gonzalez could have played for both the U.S. and Mexico. Not any more. The giant central defender, son of Mexican immigrants, played his heart out at The Azteca and could be a fixture for years to come.
 
In the cold light of day, both the U.S. and Mexico both find themselves looking upwards. The Costa Ricans rebounded from the Denver defeat to register their first win against Jamaica, while Panama tops the standings -- and remains unbeaten -- after victory over Honduras.
 
At present, just three points blanket all six countries. It is far too early to start predicting Panama's first-ever World Cup appearance or Mexico's first qualifying failure in 32 years. But there will be many more bumps along the road.

That much we can take for granted.

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