In 2026, the biggest football (soccer) party in the world comes to CONCACAF as the United bid of Canada, Mexico, and The United States of America host the World Cup. But before then, there’s the small matter of 2022 and there are four CONCACAF teams looking to leave their mark on the tournament. Each team faces challenges and tough opponents, but this World Cup as always will be a good test to see where CONCACAF as a region sits with the rest of the world. With that said, let’s examine each team in the World Cup, and then access the chances of them reaching the next round.
In 2014, Costa Rica was an unfancied side placed in a group alongside two European giants (Italy and England) and a continental powerhouse (Uruguay). Now in 2022, Costa Rica is an unfancied side placed in a group alongside two European giants (Spain and Germany) and a continental powerhouse (Japan). The Central Americans will always be able to count on their magical run in Brazil as motivation, but eight years on, the squad is significantly older.
Mainstays in the Costa Rica team such as Keylor Navas, Brian Ruiz, Bryan Oviedo, Óscar Duarte, and Celso Borges have an average age of just over thirty-four, and outside of teenager Brandon Aguilera – no outfield player plays in a top five European league. Even then, Aguilera has been loaned out by Nottingham Forrest to Costa Rican side Guanacasteca.
Costa Rica made a slow start to World Cup qualification which ran parallel with an early quarter-final exit at the 2021 GOLD Cup. But they rebounded spectacularly to win six of their last seven qualifiers, including wins over Canada, the USA, and a draw away in Mexico. Costa Rica defeated New Zealand in the intercontinental playoff thanks to an early Joel Campbell strike.
Joel Campbell will be key to Costa Rica at this World Cup. The former Arsenal striker has twenty-five goals for his country, and at thirty years old, is still within his peak years. The chances Los Ticos will have against Germany, Spain, and Japan will be limited, so they need Campbell to be clinical. Provided that happens and Goalkeeper Keylor Navas can show the firm that made him one of the world’s best goalkeepers, then they might surprise people again like it’s 2014 in Brazil! The odds aren’t in their favour, however, and with an ageing squad, I expect this Costa Rica side to give a good account of themselves in their group, but ultimately good home early.
United States of America
The consensus opinion is that this is the best American side ever assembled. It is also the youngest USMNT World Cup squad ever assembled, creating an air of unpredictability around this side. The Americans are in what is likely the most unpredictable group of the tournament – England, the US, Iran, and Wales, four teams inside the FIFA World Rankings top twenty.
After the disaster of the 2018 World Cup qualifications campaign which saw the USMNT miss the world cup for the first time since 1986, the Americans went through a squad transition which has reinvigorated the side. Stalwarts Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley have all moved on and been replaced by a young core of Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Giovanni Reyna, Timothy Weah, Sergiño Dest, and Christian Pulisic.
All of these players play in Europe’s top five leagues, and Christian Pulisic himself has even won the Champions League with Chelsea, becoming the first American to play in club football’s biggest game in the process. With so much talent at their disposal, it was no surprise that America made it back to the World Cup, what is a surprise though is the manner in which they did it. The US won just one away game out of seven and only qualified (automatically) ahead of Costa Rica on goal difference. Since then, they have played three games out-with US soil against El Salvador, Japan, and Saudi Arabia – and have failed to win any of them while scoring just one goal.
Greg Berhalter is under pressure to deliver at this World Cup, and a lot hinges on the first game against Wales. A defeat to Wales would leave the US almost certainly having to avoid defeat against England, a very difficult task against one of the most consistent tournament sides of the past four years. In contrast, a win against Wales and the USMNT will be flying. The US should be very confident of getting out of their group as they have a very talented squad, but their mixed form, and the tough group will keep them grounded. It’s a simple equation, if the US turns up and plays at its best, they’ll once again make (at least) the last sixteen.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
The traditional powerhouse of the region, Mexico has been a model of consistency, reaching seven consecutive round of sixteens… and being eliminated in seven consecutive rounds of sixteens. What will help in El Tri’s quest to break that curse is a favourable group, which they have with Argentina, Poland, and Saudi Arabia. This is just as well, because Mexico is entering this World Cup with an air of pessimism, much unlike previous World Cup campaigns.
While nowhere near as bad as 2014, the 2022 qualification campaign was far from a convincing performance from Tata Martino’s side, who failed to win any of their games against Canada and the U.S., and for many fans, this is far from a vintage side. In 2018, Mexico has eleven players in their squad playing in a top-flight European league, for 2022 – they’ll have just eight.
But there is genuine talent in this squad. Edson Álvarez is a defensive midfielder for Ajax, playing a key role in the Dutch side winning back-to-back Eredivisie titles, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him involved in a big money transfer in January off the back of this World Cup. His Ajax teammate, right-back Jorge Sánchez, is also an important player for Mexico, and upfront is Napoli and Wolverhampton Wanderers strikers Hirving Lozano and Raúl Jiménez. Lozano and Jiménez have combined for just eight goals between them for Mexico since 2020 (Jiménez had a long-term injury during this time) but it’s a tournament, if one of them can get hot in the group stage then Mexico will be in great shape.
There is also the veteran presence of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who is already considered a World Cup cult hero around the world, and captain Andrés Guardado. Mexico’s captain has made 178 appearances for his country, and this will be his fifth World Cup with El Tri.
Mexico has plenty of bad World Cup blood toward Argentina. In 2006 and 2010, Mexico suffered a last-sixteen heartbreak twice to Argentina, the first one game in extra time, and the second game featured a highly controversial opening goal for Argentina which wouldn’t have stood in the age of VAR. Mexico will be out for revenge, and having beaten Germany four years ago, they’ll see no reason why they can’t do it again.
Their other opponents are both tricky. Saudi Arabia topped their Asian qualifying group and will be effectively playing with home advantage thanks to their close geographical ties to Qatar. No one quite knows what to expect from a polish team that has often disappointed in tournaments, but Robert Lewandoski is still one of the best strikers in the world, even at thirty-four. The Mexican back line cannot afford to give him chances. There may not be the same buzz we associate with Mexico going into a World Cup, but with a favourable draw – perhaps this is the chance they can finally go on a run.
Last, but certainly not least, is an unfamiliar face on this stage, but don’t let that fool you – this is a very good Canada team, that deservedly topped the CONCACAF Third Round qualification table to reach their first World Cup since 1986! Their reward was a very tough (but not impossible to get out of) group against Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco. A task that this golden generation of Canadian players won’t shy away from.
With a combination of John Herdman’s man management and tactical know-how, and a squad with plenty of talent, Canada cruised to the World Cup, and they have the ability to hurt big teams. It all starts up front, despite being a left-back for his club Bayern Munich, Alphonso Davies is utilized as a left winger for Canada to blistering effect, and is considered by many as the current best player to come out of CONCACAF.
Upfront with him is striker Johnathan David, a prolific goalscorer for Lille who is destined for big things with an elite European club. Stephen Eustáquio (Porto) and Tajon Buchanan (Club Brugge) have both starred in the champions league this season, giving Canada a legitimate core of players in the elite tier of Europe for the first time ever.
That Fab Four has also backed up a mix of talented youth and experience. Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (35) and captain Atiba Hutchinson (39) have been long-term mainstays that are still excellent contributors for Canada, while at the other side of the spectrum, midfield Ismaël Koné (20) and Alistair Johnston (24) are both set to be key members of Canada for many years to come. There are off-the-field distractions for Canada involving an ongoing dispute with their association, but this team is professional enough to block that out whilst in Qatar, and focus solely on matters in hand (at least Canadians will hope that’s the case).
It’s no secret that Canada is in a tough group. Morocco is nobody’s pushover, and the European elite of Croatia and Belgium speak for themselves. But Canada can hurt them, Belgium is a very aged defence, while upfront talent Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku look to be struggling to reach either their old form or match fitness. If Canada can contain Kevin De Bruyne, then they may have a chance thanks to their blistering counter speed. The Belgium game is crucial, Canada will be desperate to go into their final game against Morocco with something to play for and should they avoid defeat against the third-best side in 2018, then it massively reduces the pressure to get a result against the 2018 World Cup runners up Croatia. This Canadian side has been defying the odds for a long time now under John Herdman, and they will fully believe they can do it again.
Whilst not a reflection of who I think is the best or not best teams in CONCACAF, here’s how their chances of reaching the last sixteen are rated based on their groups. (Also every chance here that I’m wrong)
Least Likely – Costa Rica
Unlikely – Canada
Likely – United States of America
Most Likely – Mexico
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