image source: REUTERS
The 2nd Round of World Cup Qualifying is already underway! Before we get into the details of the 2nd round, let’s take a quick look back at what happened in the 1st round back in March.
Barbados defeated the US Virgin Islands by 4-1 on aggregate.
St. Kitts and Nevis defeated Turks and Caicos by 12-4 on aggregate.
Nicaragua defeated Anguilla 8-0 on aggregate.
Bermuda defeated Bahamas 8-0 on aggreate.
Belize advanced over Cayman Islands on away goals 1-1.
Dominica defeated British Virgin Islands 3-2 on aggregate.
Curacao defeated Montserrat 4-3 on aggregate.
20 teams will contest the 2nd round in home-and-away ties. 10 will emerge to join Jamaica and Haiti in the 3rd round for one more round of home-and-away legs. The 6 winners will then join Costa Rica, Mexico, USA, Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage.
Got all that? Good! Let’s get this CONCACAF ship rolling!
Nicaragua vs. Suriname
In a bit of a surprise, Nicaragua took the first leg against Suriname 1-0. They’ve now scored 9 goals against 0 conceded in qualifying and are in great position to advance. They went from a 45% chance to about a 65% chance to advance. Suriname has work to do, but these are two pretty good teams. Amazingly, before the matches against Anguilla, Nicaragua hadn’t won a match since February 2012. Suriname hasn’t conceded at home since December 2011, winning 5 straight. The return leg is going to be hotly contested, and if Nicaragua can secure an away goal, they’ll be the ones going through.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Guyana
Yet another really good CONCACAF matchup, as the Jaguars of Guyana take on our boys Vincy Heat. Both teams went straight through to the 2nd round, so we’ll be seeing each for the first time. Guyana has been playing better of late, but lost their last match at Suriname. Still, that’s good competition. Meanwhile, Vincy Heat stormed through the Windward Islands tournament, winning all 3 matches they played. That includes a win over host St. Lucia, who will also contest this round. It probably would’ve been better for Guyana to start at home, but if they’re able to muster a draw on the road, they should feel much more confident. Odds: St. Vincent and the Grenadines (61.7%), Guyana (38.3%)
Aruba vs. Barbados
Aruba’s FIFA Rank dictated that they would play a team that had to go through the first round. Unfortunately for them, they were paired with Barbados, who is a very strong team. So strong, in fact, that we actually favor Barbados in this one. While they suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat to the US Virgin Islands, they got it together in the road leg to win going away 4-0. We’re not all that high on Aruba. Their FIFA Ranking was inflated by playing Continental Qualifiers and having the right rankings used at the right time. Our rankings never really bought in. Aruba has only played 2 matches in the past year and has just 1 point to show. Despite this, we’re expecting a close matchup because Barbados losing to USVI showed that they must focus. Odds: Barbados (53.9%), Aruba (46.1%)
Curacao vs. Cuba
As is the case with many of these CONCACAF battles, there’s not much difference separating these two teams. Cuba unfortunately drew Curacao, who is right up there with St. Kitts and Nevis as the best to emerge from Round 1. Curacao is hot. They’ve taken 13 points from their last 5 matches, including a prep home win over Trinidad and Tobago. Have to take notice of that. These teams actually played back in November with Cuba winning 3-2. Cuba is a very interesting squad, as they do terrible against good teams, and take care of business as they should against weak teams. Curacao falls right on their border of good/bad, so you know this will be close. We’re giving the edge to the team that’s heading to the Gold Cup and has played the better competition. Odds: Cuba (60.6%), Curacao (39.4%)
Dominica vs. Canada
Unfortunately, this matchup is not one of those in CONCACAF that is expected to be tight. We’ve long gone over why Canada continually sucks in the FIFA rankings. As a result, they enter qualification here. They drew well, as Dominica is all the way down at #200 in our rankings. In World Cup Qualification for 2014, Canada of course entered qualifying at the same spot. They drew St. Lucia, and promptly destroyed them 11-1. Now we won’t go as far as saying Canada will win by 10 goals, but our predictor actually thinks they might. It would take an awfully large miracle for Dominica to get through here. We really think Canada rolls. Ranch on them to advance. Odds: Canada (98.7%), Dominica (1.3%)
Dominican Republic vs. Belize
We’re not gonna waste any time here. This is our closest projected match. These teams are separated by 0.09 goals in our match predictor, which basically means we expect these teams to end level on goals. You might even see PKs here. That’s saying a lot considering Belize advanced without winning a match. In fact, their last win PERIOD was in January 2013. But there’s a reason we factor in more than points obtained. Belize played a very tough schedule. Their problem is they haven’t played a friendly in years, so it remains to be seen how they’ll fare. DR also played Cayman Islands in May and whooped up at home by 6-0. It obviously wasn’t the same circumstances as a World Cup Qualifier, but you’ve got to take notice. We think DR takes care of business at home and then holds on the road. Odds: Dominican Republic (51.5%), Belize (48.5%)
St. Kitts and Nevis vs. El Salvador
This is a brutal draw for St. Kitts. They almost would’ve been better off taking their chances of drawing Aruba. But they must deal with what’s in front of them. El Salvador has experience playing against top flight competition. Chile was just only able to defeat them 1-0. Argentina beat them by 2-0 in March. You don’t keep games close like that against top competition if you’re not a good team. But then again, at some point you have to beat somebody. St. Kitts is the most exciting team to watch in this competition. They’ve scored 26 goals in their past 8 matches against 9 allowed. They’re playing really well, but conversely to El Salvador, it hasn’t been against the best competition. They did well to get as far as they did in Gold Cup Qualifying. This is going to be a very interesting tilt to see if St. Kitts and Nevis’ push forward attack can overcome El Salvador’s “we want this game to end 0-0” mentality. We give the slight edge to the team with the better Strength of Schedule, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it go either way. Odds: El Salvador (57.1%), St. Kitts and Nevis (42.9%)
Stream: http://www.nbcuniverso.com/now/live (8 PM ET, June 11)
Antigua and Barbuda vs. St. Lucia
Antigua constantly seems like a team that’s on the verge of breaking out. The Benna Boys did very well in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in 2014. They’ve been hot in 2015, winning all 3 of their matches, but against BVI, USVI, and Dominica, you certainly expect much more than 4-0 total from those 3 matches. Antigua is another interesting case as they do really well against weaker competition, but can’t seem to get it going against the better teams. St. Lucia had a very disappointing effort at the Windward Islands tournament. As hosts, we expected them to at least be in contention for the title entering the final matchday. That wasn’t meant to be. St. Lucia has really struggled of late, with only 1 point from their last 7 matches. They’ve really struggled to keep the ball out of the net. We would be surprised to see St. Lucia advance from this one. Odds: Antigua and Barbuda (68.6%), St. Lucia (31.4%)
Puerto Rico vs. Grenada
Speaking of disappointment at the Windward Islands tournament, Grenada could only muster a meaningless win over St. Lucia. It was their first clean sheet in 11 matches. These two teams were actually in the same group for CONCACAF Gold Cup Qualifying. Puerto Rico hosted the group and couldn’t advance. Grenada was actually able to get a 2-2 draw in Puerto Rico. Things haven’t gotten better for Puerto Rico. They have 6 losses and 3 draws in their past 9 matches. Puerto Rico did well with the draw, and getting Grenada is really the only reason we have them favored at all. Neither team has inspired much confidence lately, but Puerto Rico has hung tough against some pretty decent competition. This one should be very close. Odds: Puerto Rico (57.1%), Grenada (42.9%)
Guatemala vs. Bermuda
The last matchup should not be as intense as some of the others. We have Guatemala ranked as the #2 CONCACAF team in this round behind Canada, but you’ll notice a similar theme here. Guatemala has just 1 point from its last 6 matches. A little closer look reveals why we still think so highly of them. They’ve played at Uruguay, Mexico and Peru and have qualified for the Gold Cup in a competition with Costa Rica. They really put it on the teams they should have in 2014. So despite playing poorly recently, we’re not all that concerned. Bermuda is a relative unknown. Until March of this year, they hadn’t played a match in two and a half years! But they’ve looked very good with their revamped squad and tactics, and they should be excited to go up against a quality side like Guatemala. Odds: Guatemala (81.7%), Bermuda (18.3%)
Stream: http://www.nbcuniverso.com/now/live (10 PM ET, June 12)
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