Costa Rica all but sealed their place in Russia next summer with an efficient 2-0 win away to fellow World Cup hopefuls USA at the weekend. This consolidates 2nd position in the table for the hosts, extending their lead over USA to six points.
There are three automatic qualification spots in this Central American World Cup qualifying campaign, with the 4th place finisher entering an intercontinental playoff. Now there are just nine points left to play and with Honduras level on points with USA in 4th and 3rd respectively, Costa Rica know that a win will be enough to book their place in Russia here.
They are coming up against the leaders of the pack in Mexico though, who sit three points above them and are already all guaranteed a World Cup place next summer. This could be the decider over who finishes top of the table.
Costa Rica’s win over USA was the perfect remedy for their last match, which was a 2-0 defeat to the same opponents in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In their seven qualifiers they have lost just once though, which was their trip away to Mexico in March.
Mexico also got a win at the weekend as they beat 5th placed Panama 1-0 thanks to a second half goal from substitute Hirving Lozano. This was their first action since Jamaica knocked them out of the Gold Cup, which followed directly on from their Confederations Cup appearance in what has been a very busy summer for the visitors.
Both of these sides are unbeaten for quite some time if you ignore the tournaments played at neutral venues. Costa Rica have won seven and drawn one of their eight home games since their last defeat, which was almost two years ago. Meanwhile, Mexico have won eight and drawn two of their ten away days since they lost to Brazil in a friendly in June 2015.
Despite boasting the attacking talents of Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, and Hirving Lozano, Mexico are a surprisingly defensive side. In this World Cup qualifying stage they have seen just 12 goals in their seven matches, with five of them having fewer than three goals in total. This doesn’t bode well for the neutrals, as Costa Rica are traditionally a very defensive outfit.