There’s nothing bigger than the World Cup.
It’s both a virtue and a shame that the pinnacle of team sport comes just once every four years. The wait can be unbearable – an entire nation and diaspora’s mood hinging on every bounce of a ball – and doubly so for those who see their attempts to summit the soccer mountain top end in failure.
We already know the four Concacaf teams who will make trips to Qatar 2022.
Canada will be there for the big dance, securely in as the region’s most dominant force in the Octagonal. The United States and Mexico will join them barring the unthinkable. Costa Rica must either make the unthinkable possible or prepare for a playoff, weighing the possibility of winning by six goals against Gregg Berhalter’s team against the probability that a futile attempt to flip the goal-differential gap could, via yellow-card suspension, hamper their chances of knocking off the best Oceania can offer.
Around the world, there was even more to play for and MLSers were in the thick of it. Here’s what happened in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday from an MLS perspective.
Friendly reminder: Head over to the MLS YouTube channel for live watchalongs of the final Concacaf matchday and the World Cup draw. Sacha Kljestan (Wednesday) and DaMarcus Beasley (Friday) will join us!
UPDATE: Peru took fifth place in Conmebol qualifying and will play a playoff against either Australia or UAE after beating Paraguay 2-0.
- National team: Peru
- Opponent: Paraguay
- How to watch: Tuesday, 7:30 pm ET | FuboTV
You can’t blame Peruvians for being a little on edge.
They thought they might be playing for an automatic bid against Paraguay at home in Lima, but Uruguay’s 1-0 win (not without some controversy) in Matchday 17 means that fifth place and a playoff against either Australia, UAE or Iraq is the best they can do.
If you didn’t catch the match or the consternation (an understatement) afterward, here’s what you missed:
From my point of view, that ball didn’t cross the line. Not clearly and obviously, at the very least. No goal. The referee crew agreed. That’s little consolation for Peru, who will qualify for the playoff if Colombia lose in Venezuela OR Colombia tie and Peru tie OR Peru beat Paraguay. They control their own destiny, both in Conmebol and should they qualify for the playoff against AFC.
Look for NYCFC center back Alexander Callens and Orlando City SC goalkeeper Pedro Gallese to start. D.C. United attacker Edison Flores will likely come off the bench. San Jose Earthquakes defender Marcos Lopez is in contention to start.
UPDATE: Iraq eliminated from AFC fourth-round playoff contention after 1-1 draw with Syria AND United Arab Emirates beat South Korea, 1-0
- National team: Iraq
- Opponent: Syria
- How to watch: Tuesday, 9:45 am ET | Paramount+
Quick, fire up your preferred scores app. Depending on what time you’re reading this – the make-or-break matches in Asia start at 9:45 am ET – Meram and Iraq may either be celebrating or drowning their sorrows. Like Canada, they haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986.
The Lions of Mesopotamia faced a must-win against UAE last Thursday to keep alive their slim hopes of qualifying for a one-game playoff against Australia (and Columbus Crew center back Milos Degenek), which would then qualify the winner for another one-game playoff against the fifth-place team in Conmebol (more on that later). Iraq won, 1-0, to pull within a point of UAE for third place ahead of the final matchday in AFC.
Iraq’s path is clear. They must take all three points against Syria, last in the group but coming off a 3-0 win against Lebanon, and hope South Korea, already safely qualified, draw or defeat the UAE. The first matchup was a tense 1-0 win via penalty kick in Goyang back in November. If the UAE win, they’ll advance to take on Australia as the group’s third-place team.
Meram didn’t play in last week’s crucial win, but he’ll be called upon should Iraq need goals. He came out of international retirement for this, and the stakes are crystal clear.
“Anytime you get called back to your national team you are excited and thankful for the opportunity,” the 33-year-old MLS veteran said. “I was only retired for a short period but after conversations with the federation and coach Shahad, they expressed the importance of these two final qualifiers. It was important I accepted the call-up and I must now give my all for my beautiful country.”
UPDATE: Ghana qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup after drawing Nigeria 1-1 (away goals tiebreaker)
- National team: Ghana
- Opponent: Nigeria
- How to watch: Tuesday, 1:00 pm ET | ESPN+
Before missing out on Russia 2018, Ghana advanced to three straight World Cups, a fact that USMNT fans know all too well after defeats at the 2006 and 2010 editions. Just thinking of that late Asamoah Gyan winner … oof.
To reclaim the good times, the Black Stars come up against a strong Nigeria team in a matchup of African powerhouse nations – at least in terms of players abroad who call the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and more home. They jockeyed for a 0-0 draw last Friday in Ghana, and now it’s time to head to Abuja with one of CAF’s five automatic qualifier spots on the line. A tense affair, you say?
Perhaps Yeboah, new to MLS and the Crew, will impact proceedings. He didn’t feature in that scoreless tie, though has four caps and featured in three World Cup qualifiers back in September and October. There’d be no better time for the pacy, dynamic winger to log his first international goal.
Yeboah’s teammate in Columbus, center back Jonathan Mensah, is also watching this one closely. The 31-year-old Crew captain isn’t in Ghana’s current squad, though featured prominently at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
UPDATE: Poland qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup after beating Sweden 2-0
- National team: Poland
- Opponent: Sweden
- How to watch: Tuesday, 2:45 pm ET | ESPN+
Win at home and you’re in. All that stands between Poland and Qatar is 90 minutes against Sweden.
Poland’s path to this UEFA Path B final was simplified when Russia were disqualified, while Sweden are five days removed from a dramatic 1-0 win against the Czech Republic sans the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic. You may know the name. What matters more, momentum or home-field advantage? We’re about to find out. It won’t comfort the Poles to know they’ve lost the last six matches against Sweden, including last summer, 3-2, at Euro 2020.
Buksa came off the bench in a 1-1 friendly draw against Scotland last Thursday and is likely to feature alongside the rested Robert Lewandowski. He’s got five goals in World Cup Qualifying.
UPDATE: Cameroon qualify for Qatar 2022 World Cup after beating Algeria 2-1 (2-2 aggregate, away goals tiebreaker)
- National team: Cameroon
- Opponent: Algeria
- How to watch: Tuesday, 3:30 pm ET | ESPN+
In CAF, five berths in Qatar come down to 10 teams and 90 minutes.
Two MLS participants keenly aware of that are Philadelphia Union fullback Olivier Mbaizo and Sounders cult-hero defender Nouhou, who must help the Indomitable Lions turn around a 1-0 first-leg defeat to Algeria in the decisive second leg to seal an African record eighth World Cup trip. The Desert Foxes snagged a historic 1-0 win in Douala, where Cameroon hadn’t lost since 2000, to head home (quite literally, Islam Slimani got the winner via a header) with an advantage.
Nouhou started that match and is expected to start again on Tuesday afternoon in Blida, where Algeria haven’t lost since 2004, a span of more than 40 matches. Though he didn't play in the first leg, Mbaizo is also in contention for a Cameroon side that placed third after hosting the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.