What to know ahead of Canada's final World Cup qualifier

CBC Sports' daily newsletter goes over what's still at stake for the Canadian men's soccer team on Wednesday night in Panama.

A win in Panama could make things easier in Qatar

The Canadian men's soccer team accomplished its goal of qualifying for the World Cup, but there's still some work to do Wednesday night in Panama. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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Canada's final World Cup qualifying match is tonight, and there's still something to play for

As you may have heard, the Canadian men's soccer team clinched its first World Cup berth since 1986 with a 4-0 win over Jamaica on Sunday. That means the pressure is off tonight in Panama, but there's still plenty at stake as the CONCACAF qualifying tournament wraps up with three meaningful matches at 9:05 p.m. ET. Here's what to know:

Canada can finish first in the group — and maybe earn an easier World Cup schedule.

The Canadians head into tonight's finale leading the United States and Mexico by three points. That's exactly how much a win is worth, so they could all end up tied in points if Canada loses to Panama, the U.S. defeats Costa Rica and Mexico beats El Salvador. But only the Americans have a (semi-)realistic shot of overtaking Canada on the first tiebreaker, which is goal differential. Canada's is plus-17 — four better than the States' and 10 better than Mexico's.

Of course, the Canadians won't have to worry about that if they can earn a win or a draw against Panama. That shouldn't be too hard for a team that has lost only once in its 13 final-round qualifying matches and is facing a fifth-place, already-eliminated Panama side that didn't put up much of a fight in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the U.S.

Finishing atop this group would be a stunning accomplishment for a Canadian team that, when qualifying began a year ago, would have been happy just to reach this stage. Now it's hours away from being able to look down on traditional CONCACAF powers Mexico and the United States and call itself the best team in the region. Powerful stuff.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really mean anything for Friday's World Cup draw. The seedings for that are not based on where a team placed in regional qualifying, but rather on the updated FIFA world rankings that will be released on Thursday. Having said that, if Canada earns a victory against Panama it would qualify for pot 3 — a draw would not be enough. We'll get into this in more detail in tomorrow's newsletter when we explain how the draw works, but a higher ranking can mean (at least in theory) a softer set of opponents at the World Cup.

For that reason, and the prestige of winning the group, Canada will be incentivized to finish out with a win tonight in Panama. Also, this is our last chance to watch this wonderful team play a (sort of) meaningful match before the World Cup in November. So, yes, it's worth watching. Read more about what's at stake tonight for Canada here.

The United States and Mexico should wrap up the other two spots.

The only other team still in contention to win one of CONCACAF's three direct tickets to the World Cup is fourth-place Costa Rica. They handed Canada its first loss of the entire qualifying campaign last week, but the Costa Ricans' odds of earning a World Cup spot tonight are slim. They trail the U.S. and Mexico by three points, and their goal differential is only within striking distance of the latter. That means Costa Rica needs a decisive win at home vs. the Americans, who have all but clinched a World Cup berth, and a decisive loss by Mexico at home vs. sixth-place El Salvador.

So, the highly probable way this all plays out tonight is Canada finishes first in the group, the U.S. and Mexico grab the other two World Cup tickets, and Costa Rica lands on the outside looking in — for now. The fourth-place finisher in CONCACAF gets a second chance to qualify via a one-game playoff vs. the winner of the Oceania region. That's New Zealand, which crushed the Solomon Islands 5-0 in today's final. They'll face (probably) Costa Rica in mid-June in Qatar.

A bunch of other World Cup spots got decided yesterday.

Cristiano Ronaldo earned his fifth trip to the World Cup when Portugal beat North Macedonia in one of the European playoff finals. This was supposed to be Portugal vs. Italy, but tiny North Macedonia nixed the highly anticipated clash of titans by upsetting the reigning European champions last week.

Poland also qualified by defeating Sweden yesterday, while one European spot is still up for grabs. An elimination match between Scotland and Ukraine originally scheduled for last week was postponed due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The plan is to play it sometime in June, and for the winner to face Wales for Europe's final World Cup ticket. Russia was disqualified from the playoffs, giving Poland a bye last week.

There was drama and controversy in Africa, where Senegal defeated Egypt in a penalty shootout to decide one of the continent's five World Cup berths. Fans behind the net flashed lights in the face of Egyptian star Mohamed Salah before his attempt, which he missed. Egypt also accused Senegalese supporters of directing racist messages toward Salah, and of throwing bottles and stones at players during warmups and attacking the team bus. On a brighter note, Cameroon scored in the dying minutes of overtime to steal a World Cup spot from Algeria. Ghana, Morocco and Tunisia grabbed the other berths.

South America's representatives are not quite settled. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador have qualified, while Peru can join them by winning an intercontinental playoff vs. either Australia or the United Arab Emirates. Those teams play on June 7, and the winner faces Peru a few days later. Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Japan beat out Australia and UAE for the four guaranteed spots from Asia.

Here’s how CanMNT made it to the Qatar 2022 World Cup

12 months ago
Duration 12:19
Relive the Canadian men’s national soccer team’s long, hard-fought journey to the World Cup in Qatar, game by game - and learn the history behind what makes Canada’s second-ever men’s World Cup berth so special - with CBC Sports’ Signa Butler.


The first women's golf major of the season (and the last at an iconic venue) tees off tomorrow. Now officially named the Chevron Championship after yet another sponsorship change, it's still affectionately known by many as the Dinah Shore, after the late American celebrity who put her name and personal touch on an event once dubbed "the Masters of women's golf." This is the last time the Dinah will be played at Mission Hills, the California desert course with the water hazard off the 18th green that winners have jumped into since the tradition started in the late '80s. Among the players hoping to make the final leap into Poppie's Pond are Canadians Brooke Henderson, who's ranked 10th in the world, and Maude-Aimee Leblanc, who jumped more than 100 spots to No. 136 with a fourth-place finish last week.

Canada's alpine ski team made a historic hire. New women's head coach Karin Harjo is the first woman ever to lead a World Cup alpine ski team. Harjo comes from the United States, where she worked with all-time greats Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. She'll be looking to improve the results of a Canadian group that did not reach a podium last season. Read more about Harjo here.

Coming up on CBC Sports

The Canadian university championships in men's hockey, women's basketball and track and field open Thursday, and you can watch them all live on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. See the full schedule here. Read a preview of the U Sports women's basketball tournament here and a preview of the men's hockey tournament here. The men's basketball championship tips off Friday and will also be streamed live on those platforms.

You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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