The groups for the third round of CONCACAF qualifying have been set now that round two is in the books. Canada took first place in its round two qualifiers against St. Lucia (pop. 161 000), St. Kitts & Nevis (pop. 50 000) and Puerto Rico (pop. 3.9 million).
In the end, despite two 0-0 draws against St. Kitts & Nevis and Puerto Rico, they advanced without too much difficulty. It now gets a lot trickier.
In the third round they’ve managed to avoid both the States and Mexico and find themselves in the “group of parity” alongside Cuba, Panama and Honduras. The top two teams from this round go the hexagonal with the other top two teams from the other two groups. From this three teams qualify automatically (read: Mexico and USA plus one more) and the fourth place team gets a home and away against the winner of Oceania (read: New Zealand; the only undefeated team at the 2010 World Cup).
Looking at this strategically and statistically, if you consider recent results from other four team round robin tournaments where the top two teams advance a pattern becomes clear. A quick look at the first round of UEFA Champions League play over the past five years yields the following.
Of the 40 Second place teams advancing to the next round:
- 2 (5%) had 13 points
- 6 (15%) had 12 points
- 10 (25%) had 11 point
- 12 (30%) had 10 points
- 7 (17.5%) had 9 points
- 3 (7.5%) had 8 points
None had fewer than eight points. I’m not statistically adept but even I can see that means that 70% of the second place teams had between 10 and 12 points meaning that 11 points should be seen as a safe position.
What does Canada need to do to get 11 points? The main thing they need to do is get at least one road win. And that makes Friday, June 8 a very, very important date on the Canadian soccer calendar. On that day, Canada is away to Cuba and it’s likely going to be their best shot at an away win. If they do that then they can afford to win two at home, draw one and be sitting on ten points regardless of results away to Honduras and Panama.
With the schedule being played out over the summer, weather won’t be in our favour so it’s crucial that every other aspect that can be applied in our favour is looked at and we know, going in, exactly what result, at a minimum, is necessary and leverage tactics to that end.
If we get through the fourth round, it’s an even bigger dogfight but let’s just look at this one round at a time…