CONCACAF: Mexico heads to 8th straight World Cup with win

It was never really in doubt that Mexico would make its eighth straight World Cup.

Mexico had all but booked its spot in Qatar heading into its final qualifying match against El Salvador on Wednesday night. The mood from the home crowd at Azteca Stadium was light from the moment a remote-controlled toy truck delivered the game ball to midfield for kickoff.

Uriel Antuna scored in the 16th minute for the early lead and Raúl Jimenez converted on a penalty kick before the end of the first half, and El Tri downed El Salvador 2-0 to make the World Cup spot official.

“The peace of mind of having finished with the job done. It’s something that was expected of us and it is something that we had to do. Now what comes for us is to prepare for the goal. Tomorrow a different moment starts,” Mexico coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino said after the game.

The final qualification matches in the North and Central America and Caribbean region were all played simultaneously on Wednesday night. CONCACAF’s three automatic bids went to Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Canada had already secured its first World Cup berth in 36 years with a 4-0 victory over Jamaica in Toronto on Sunday. The Canadians fell to Panama 1-0 in their final match but finished atop the eight-team table with 28 points.

“We’re first because we deserved it,” Canada midfielder Stephen Eustáquio said. “We’re first because we’re better. We’re not first because Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica or the States had a bad campaign, we’re first because we’re better. And that’s what makes me proud.”

Mexico also finished with 28 points, but fell to second on goal difference.

The United States, which missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, lost 2-0 to Costa Rica to fall to third place with 25 points.

Costa Rica defeated Canada 1-0 last week before beating Honduras 2-1 on Sunday, moving into fourth place in the standings and preventing both Mexico and the United States from clinching before Wednesday.

Jamaica defeated Honduras 2-1, with both teams already eliminated.

As the fourth-place finisher, Costa Rica advances to an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand, which defeated the Solomon Islands 5-0 in the Oceania region earlier in the day.

The World Cup draw is set for Friday, with the eight top seeds going to host Qatar, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, England, France, Portugal and Spain.

Pot two will include Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Uruguay, Mexico and the United States. Canada was in pot four. Pots are filled based on FIFA rankings.

With the conclusion of the CONCACAF qualifiers, the World Cup field was nearly set with 29 of the 32 teams wrapping up spots. Fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic delayed the qualification process, as did Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so the final teams won’t be determined until June.

Peru, which finished in fifth place in South America, will compete for a berth against the winner of Asia’s fifth-place playoff between Australia and the United Arab Emirates. The winner of the game between New Zealand and Costa Rica also advances.

Ukraine was scheduled to play Scotland in a European playoff, but the match was postponed until June because of the invasion and Russia was disqualified. The winner then plays at Wales for Europe’s final spot.

The World Cup is set to start on Nov. 21.

Skepticism of Mexico’s attack swirled around the team and it was amplified because of the team’s lackluster 1-0 victory over last-lace Honduras on Sunday. El Tri was unable to win against the United States and Canada during the final round of matches.

Much of the criticism was directed at Martino. After Antuna scored his early goal against El Salvador, he ran to embrace his coach in a show of support. Martino said afterward he was touched by the gesture.

Mexico has appeared in 16 World Cups since 1930. El Tri has never won soccer’s premier tournament but reached the quarterfinals in both 1970 and 1986. The team has advanced to the elimination round in each of its past seven World Cups.

Martino was not with the team for its match in Honduras on Sunday because he recently had a procedure for retinal detachment in his right eye and was unable to fly.

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