The stage is set for some of the World Cup qualifiers most entertaining games of the year. Several teams from CONMEBOL and CONCACAF are at the brink of elimination, while others are just a short step from a ticket to Brazil.
What happens in today’s matchups will determine whether some nations will travel or stay home next summer. Here are today’s most exciting games:
United States vs. Mexico (7:00 p.m. ET on Unimás, http://www.univisiondeportes.com, and ESPN)
After a crushing 1-2 defeat against Honduras at the Estadio Azteca last Friday, El Tri is hard-pressed to beat the U.S. in Columbus, Ohio. On Saturday, the Mexican Federation fired coach “Chepo” Acosta, and now Mexico, currently ranked fourth in CONCACAF’s hexagonal, is counting on a rather nervous Luis Fernando Tena – a manager who led the youth divisions to the gold medal in London 2012 -- to perform a miracle that allows the national squad to secure a direct ticket to the World Cup. For that to happen, El Tri must win the three remaining games and pray for other favorable results. Otherwise El Tri will have to play New Zealand for a spot in the World Cup.
Mexico faces a strong U.S. team that is trying to regain its footing after losing 3-1 to Costa Rica. The U.S. has won all previous meetings in Columbus, but the squad may be a bit shaky since starters Altidore, Besler, and Cameron will be unavailable due to yellow card accumulation.
Honduras vs. Panamá (8:50 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT or watch online here)
Many U.S. and Mexican fans are set to be paying attention to what goes on in Honduras. A victory for the visiting team could complicate matters for El Tri, and, at the same time, secure the U.S. presence in Brazil.
Last Friday, Honduras became the second team in World Cup qualifying history to beat Mexico at the Estadio Azteca (Costa Rica defeated Mexico in June, 2001, in a match known as the “Aztecazo”). The team is confident after their historic win, and they are aware that they must win all their remaining games if they don’t want to depend on any other results.
Panama, in the meanwhile, needs to earn some away points to make up for their dull 0-0 draw against Jamaica last Friday. The canaleños are just one point behind Mexico, and if they win their remaining games they could displace El Tri and leave Mexico out of the World Cup, something that hasn’t happened since 1982.
Uruguay vs. Colombia (5:50 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT or watch online here)
Liverpool’s Luis Suárez and PSG’s Edinson Cavani face off against Monaco’s Radamel Falcao García and James Rodríguez: The stage is set for a strikers’ match with lots of goals. Uruguay is finally regaining its step in the South American qualifiers, and Colombia is just one point away from securing a spot in next year’s World Cup. Uruguay will miss its two central defenders, Diego Lugano and Diego Godín, who are suspended for yellow card accumulation, and Colombia won’t be able to count with left-back Pablo Armero. Expect a hard-fought game with lots of excitement.
Venezuela vs. Peru (7:55 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT en español or watch online here)
Venezuela and Peru will battle it out for the chance to reach CONMEBOL’s playoffs against an Asian team. Standing sixth and seventh respectively, both teams lots critical games last Friday, and both need a win to put pressure on fifth placed Uruguay. As always, La Vinotinto will trust in the power of striker Salomón Rondón and the shooting finesse of Juan Arango. Meanwhile Peru is set to rely on Claudio Pizarro, Paolo Guerrero, and Jefferson “La foca” (“The seal”) Farfán.
Paraguay vs. Argentina (9:50 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT en español or watch online here)
Though Paraguay’s chances of qualifying are virtually nonexistent, this is still probably one of the night’s most interesting games. The Guaranís are known for their fighting spirit and for never giving up, and they are bound to give Argentina a tough time at the Defensores del Chaco stadium in Asuncion. The Argentines are the current leaders of the CONMEBOL qualifiers, and given that this is the last game of the night, they could earn a place in Brazil even before they hit the turf. Messi, Agüero, and Di María, though. Do you need any other excuse to watch?
Bolivia vs. Ecuador (3:50 p.m. ET on beIN SPORT or watch online here)
Bolivia will try to win for the sake of honor in front of its crowd in La Paz. The Bolivian team can’t make it to the world cup even if they win all their remaining matches. Ecuador is in a very different situation. The Ecuadorian squad is currently fourth in CONMEBOL’s qualifiers, five points away from an automatic spot at the World Cup. Despite the ridiculously high altitude of the La Paz stadium, which is located almost 12,000 feet above sea-level, Ecuador has managed to win its last three games in that city, and in World Cup qualifiers it has defeated Bolivia eight times in a row.