|image from empireofsoccer.com|
The 2014 World Cup almost went off without Mexico who had to endure a playoff to get into the Tournament. This year’s 2018 tournament will indeed be missing one of the giants of CONCACAF, as the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup finals. When Honduras went out of its playoff tie with Australia, this left just three sides representing the confederation in Russia.
Costa Rica joins Mexico and upstart Panama as the three nations from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) at the final.
Undoubtedly, Mexico which features former United man Javier “Chicharrito” Hernandez, has the shot to go furthest of any team from the region if it can navigate a tough group stage.
However, Costa Rica brings a veteran-laden squad to the tournament and plays an organized brand of soccer. The Ticos have had a lot of success at the World Cup in years past. Man United fans who are also supporters of England will undoubtedly remember the famous 0-0 draw in 2014.
The misfortune of the United States has helped to create one of the stories of the World Cup. Panama is making its World Cup debut in 2018 having never qualified for the field before. The squad will open with Belgium, and England fans will get a look at the Panamanian side in match day two.
Mexico will be managed by Juan Carlos Osorio who will be a first-time manager at the World Cup and is likely to start off behind the curve as Mexico has been thrown into a bit of a group of death, and open its tournament with favorite Germany.
Mexico and has been knocked out of round of 16 in six straight World Cup finals, but will have a chance to break this streak should it be able to navigate past Sweden and Korean Republic to earn a spot in the knock-out stages. Along with Hernandez, Mexico will be strong in goal with Jesus Corona and Guillermo Ochoa, who is one of the best Keepers in the world. Rafa Marquez is seemingly ageless, and at age 39 will bring stability to the back line. The Mexican attack will be led by brothers Giovanni and Jonathon dos Santos along with Hernandez.
Costa Rica also boasts one of the worlds best keepers in Keylor Navas. The Real Madrid man will give Costa Rica a chance to compete in any game. Premier league fans will also recognize Joel Campbell who will be deployed at striker for Costa Rica. The Arsenal man will form an attack with Bryan Ruiz who is a Costa Rican legend. The midfielder has spent time at the English side Fulham, and has over 100 caps for the national team, and has scored 23 international goals.
Debutants Panama sends an obscure squad to Russia. England fans will become acquainted with the in its second ever match in the World Cup. “Los Canaleros “ feature mainly players from MLS and South and Central American clubs. Players to watch will include New York Red Bull defenders Fidel Escobar and Michael Murillo. Panamanian legend Luis Tejada will finally make his long-awaited World Cup debut at age 36.
Mexico will open its tournament against Germany, and then will take on Korean Republic and will close out its Group F slate with Sweden.
Panama opens its Group G schedule with Belgium, then will take on the Three Lions and then finally, and will close out with Tunisia.
Costa Rica faces a group of death as well in Group E. After opening with Serbia, the Ticos will take on giants Brazil, and finally, close out with Switzerland who is never an easy opponent.
It will be tough for the region to get anyone out of the group stages, but if Mexico can escape Germany’s group, El Tri has as good a chance as any team to make a run in the knockout stages.
Predicted Group and Knockout Stage Finishes:
Costa Rica: Second place on 5 points and a place in the round of 16. Knocked out in round of 16.
Mexico: Second place on 6 points, advances to quarterfinals where it is knocked out.
Panama: last place on 1 point, knocked out in Group stage.