OLIVER PLATT: Could CanMNT qualify for Qatar 2022 this month?
Here’s something to wrap your head around: Canada could qualify for the 2022 World Cup a week on Wednesday.
That’s right — we’re so close that it’s time to start doing some math. And we can begin with a scenario that is wildly optimistic but nevertheless possible:
- Canada collects nine points this window.
- Mexico or Panama picks up only one point (or none).
- Neither Costa Rica nor Jamaica wins all three matches.
OK, it’s an extreme long shot. But the fact we can lay out a pathway without even considering the three games still to play in March is exhilarating.
And while it’s asking a lot to expect them all this window, three wins — or nine points by whatever method — looks something like a magic number.
That would leave Mexico and, more pertinently, Panama needing 11 points to draw level with Canada and 12 to overtake them.
Canada’s goal difference — the first tiebreaker — is six up on Panama’s right now, so they’d probably need the 12. Four wins, or an unbeaten three wins and three draws, feels like a big ask for a team that is already punching above its weight and still faces visits to Mexico and the United States before hosting Canada on March 30.
Eight or nine points from a possible 18 and Canada should be in a good spot. Anything more than that, and Panama will need to be exceptional. Anything less, and you leave the door ajar.
How Canada can get the points it needs
Firstly, unless Canada can play truly superbly in the four matches prior, you can mark down Jamaica at home in March as another must-win game.
The challenge ahead is that there are no others left on the schedule that fit that description — at least not in the sense that Canada should be considered strong favourites. It’s four road trips and a visit from the United States.
Canada is unbeaten but also winless away from home, drawing all three games so far. That’s a good record given two of those matches were against the U.S. and Mexico.
But against weaker opposition — Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama — more will be required. Canada will need to deliver at least one but ideally two wins.
In the most dramatic — and for Canadians, stressful — scenario, it could all come down to Panama vs. Canada in Panama City on the final matchday.
What about the intercontinental playoff?
Canada is very close to assuring itself of at least a fourth-place finish, which would set up an intercontinental playoff against a team from Oceania — likely New Zealand — for a place at the World Cup.
It’s hard to see anyone outside of the current top four catching up. Even if Canada was to collapse and pick up just three points the rest of the way, Jamaica would need to win four out of six just to draw level. Costa Rica is a couple of points closer but still facing an uphill struggle having already played Jamaica, El Salvador, and Honduras at home.
That’s the security blanket — the knowledge that even if things go downhill from here, Canada should still get a second chance at Qatar.
The Canadians would be favoured in that playoff, with New Zealand ranked 110 in the world to Canada’s 40.
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