The 2018 World Cup is starting to really take some shape, and matches on Friday and Tuesday, particularly in CONCACAF will finally start to tell the tale of who's going to be playing in Russia next summer.
The biggest storyline of the seventh match day of the Hex is whether the United States can finally firmly put itself in control of its World Cup fate. When you lose two matches in succession, it's incredibly hard to claw out of that hole, but the Yanks have done just that by taking eight of a possible 12 points since they were beaten by Mexico and Costa Rica to kick off the final round of qualifying.
The good news is that this fixture against Costa Rica on Friday is the last against any of the teams that should be locks to qualify for the World Cup. The bad news is that the Americans are still far from a sure thing to get into Russia at this point. With a win, they could end up four points clear of safety with three fixtures to go. A loss, and they could find themselves back in a fight not only below the automatic safety cut line, but perhaps level with Honduras as well for the intercontinental playoff spot.
Costa Rica, a team that is on 11 points, is only a modest +0.5 underdog in the match that is going to be played in Harrison, New Jersey at Red Bull Arena. Any result will probably have Los Ticos feeling like they've done enough to return to the World Cup. Even with a loss, there are still plenty of opportunities to take in that last result that may or may not ultimately be needed to get to Russia.
Mexico is probably already effectively in the World Cup. That said, El Tri have a lot of pressure on their back. Juan Carlos Osorio is on a very toasty seat at the moment, and he can't even control what's going to happen with his club in this match against Panama on Friday night. Osorio is finishing up his suspension from the Confederations Cup over the summer, and he won't be on the touchline in this game.
Panama has played stout defense during this WCQ campaign, allowing just four goals in six fixtures. Included in that mix was a gritty scoreless draw back in November against this same Mexico team.
The Panamanians are on the cut line right now, and they've got the most difficult schedule left to go with road matches against both the United States and Mexico and a home date with Costa Rica still on the docket.
That's why opportunity is going to be striking for both Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago. We're not going to call this match between the two an eliminator for both teams, but it surely is the last shot that T&T has to qualify for the World Cup.
Anything less than three points would be a disaster at this point for the Trinidadians. They're set at +180 at home against favored Honduras, and if they do lose, they'll be stuck on three points with just three matches left, and they're stuck going to Panama next Tuesday night.
For Honduras, the formula is simple. The team really has to take three points from this one, because getting anything from the United States isn't all that likely back at home next week. Sitting on eight points going into the last set of matches in October will give Honduras a legitimate shot of reaching the World Cup. Anything less than that, and there's a good chance Panama has run a little too far away to be caught.
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