After the last round of CONCACAF qualifiers I wrote about the trouble the US faces in attempting to make the 2014 World Cup. Friday marked the second set of qualifiers for the group, with game 3 for all teams set to take place tomorrow. Match day 2 may have helped the Americans a little, but the road ahead is still going to be tough based on the game they played against Costa Rica in Denver.
The game was notable for more than just the score, the Costa Rican FA has lodged a complaint with FIFA about the conditions under which the match was played. The game was played in the middle of a blizzard, and had to be stopped temporarily in the 2nd half so that grounds crews could clear the lines to allow play to continue. Ultimately, the US won 1-0 on a Clint Dempsey goal in the 16th minute. I don’t expect the Costa Rican challenge to amount to much as it is unlikely that FIFA will overturn a game that was played to completion, but again it highlights the desperate situation that the US faces in qualification. Despite the weather, the Costa Rican team managed some sustained pressure on the US, showing again the difficulty the US faces in ensuring its home points, much less picking up something on the road.
The justification for playing in Denver was not the potential for a late winter storm, but the need for the US to play at altitude before heading to Mexico City for the game on Tuesday. The US now goes into the most difficult venue in the confederation to play a Mexico team that is now desperate to show its fans that they can win. As much difficulty as the US faces, Mexico is making its own trouble after starting with two straight draws against Costa Rica (Mex blew a 2-0 lead) and then drawing Jamaica 0-0 on Thursday. Mexico is a stronger team than their record so far has shown, expect them to play their best on Tuesday.
Across the Atlantic and in contrast to the game in the blizzard, Northern Ireland was forced to cancel its qualifier against Russia because of snow, originally the game was postponed one day, but when conditions were not any better the following day officials were forced to cancel the match. This brings up another problem, as there are not to many open international dates left before qualification needs to be completed. Russia wants the match rescheduled to just before its match in Portugal on June 7, but Northern Ireland thinks that is too long after the end of their competitive season (early May, while Russia plays a spring to fall schedule like MLS) and the N. Ireland captain is getting married the day after the proposed make-up date (I don’t think FIFA will really take that into consideration).
Costa Rica and the US would be placed in much the same situation as both teams still have eight qualifiers to play out before the end of the October (the November international dates will be needed for the playoff qualifier between CONCACAF 4th place vs New Zealand), making for a very full international calendar already. That hardly allows for one more to be worked into the schedule. Had the game been abandoned when play was stopped in the second half, there would have been little choice but to reschedule the qualifier, but with a completed game FIFA will not want to revisit the result. And the US escapes a marginal performance with an act of God, rather than a hand of God.