United States fighting to keep destiny in their own hands

MIAMI • The United States face their most important World Cup qualifying game in nearly 30 years today when they take on a Panama side seeking revenge and chasing a first appearance at the Finals.

Since appearing at the 1990 World Cup - the US' first appearance at football's biggest tournament since 1950 - they have qualified for every World Cup since.

Yet, American hopes of an eighth straight World Cup appearance are in jeopardy as Bruce Arena's side prepare to face Panama in Orlando.

A stuttering campaign in the six-team final round of qualifying for North America, Central America and the Caribbean (Concacaf) has left the US in fourth place with two games remaining.

They are outside the top three automatic qualifying places for next year's Finals in Russia .

Panama are third, one point ahead of the US.

It means that Arena's side must take maximum points from today's game to keep their qualification destiny in their own hands.

Victory, followed by an away win against Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday, would guarantee automatic qualification.

Any other result in Orlando, and the picture becomes complicated, with a fourth-placed finish resulting in a two-leg play-off against Syria or Australia.

Panama, who drew 1-1 with the US in Panama City in March, will likely qualify for Russia if they win in Florida today.

A draw would also work in their favour, leaving them needing only to beat Costa Rica - who by that stage may already have qualified - next Tuesday to book a first ever place at the World Cup.

Today's game also gives Panama a golden opportunity to avenge their agonising 2013 qualifying loss to the US. Four years ago, Panama needed only to beat the US at home to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

But two US goals in stoppage time turned what looked like being a 2-1 Panama win into a 3-2 America victory to leave the hosts devastated.

US coach Arena acknowledged the importance of today's game, but reiterated that his players still have their qualification destiny in their own hands.

"This is an important game, no question about it," he said. "Win the game - that's the message. We have no excuses. We're not depending on other teams to win games to help us."

In other Concacaf games today, already-qualified Mexico face Trinidad & Tobago at home.

Second-placed Costa Rica can qualify with at least a draw at home against fifth-placed Honduras.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2017, with the headline 'United States fighting to keep destiny in their own hands'. Print Edition | Subscribe