Chile, the Confederation Cup finalists and Copa America 2015 and 2106 winners, and the USA, the 2017 Gold Cup winners, were eliminated from the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer. As next summer’s showcase slots fill up the state of world football beings to come into clearer focus.
The Chileans, possessors of one of the world’s truly gifted generations of South American soccer players, squandered their early qualifier advantages, which included a 3-1 victory over Uruguay and a 2-0 win over Brazil, by recently losing to both Bolivia (0-1 away) and Paraguay (0-3 at home), before succumbing to Brazil tonight in Sao Paolo 0-3.
The USA, whose qualifying campaign included two coaching regimes (Jurgen Klinsmann’s and Bruce Arena’s) and was marked by few ups and quite a few downs, reached its lowest level tonight. Team USA played as lackluster a match as they have ever managed. For long stretches of their 1-2 away loss to Trinidad and Tobago the American team seemed unable to muster a single credible attack in a game they knew they had to win. Ultimately, they did not have it in them to muster the comeback, and the loss made them the fifth placed team in the six-team CONCACAF tournament, with Trinidad and Tobago coming in sixth.
That both eliminated teams had their tickets to Russia in their grasps early on, and even at this late date had a chance to decide their own fate, must have made their eventual eliminations all the more painful. Tonight, both losers must have also felt a little snake bitten. Colombian keeper David Ospina’s save attempt actually helped hosts Peru, pushing Jose Guerrero’s indirect free kick into the inside of the post for the 1-1 final score that ultimately eliminated Chile. Had Ospina simply allowed the ball to go in, the goal would not have counted, as two touches were required for the score. While at Panama City, the hosts first goal was never a score as the ball never crossed the line! A draw would have qualified the USA. Finally, At Alto Boldon Stadium, in Trinidad, it was Omar Gonzalez’s own goal at the 17th minute that gave the home team the early lead. Despite top (fifth round) scorer Christian Pulisic’s marvelous fifth goal of the tourney, the USA simply did not have a continued response to offer.
In CONCACAF’s other games of the night Honduras defeated visiting Mexico 3-2 and hosts Panama defeated Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify. Panama leapfrogged the USA to qualify directly and Honduras moved on to the Confederations playoff against Australia.
In South American qualifiers, Lionel Messi’s sublime hat trick led Argentina to a 3-1 comeback victory at Ecuador, joining Brazil (3-0 winners over Chile), Uruguay (4-2 winners over Bolivia) and Colombia, as direct qualifiers, and Peru (who drew 1-1 at home with Colombia) in fifth place, moving on the Confederations playoff against New Zealand.
In Europe, Portugal and France joined yesterday’s winners Serbia and Iceland to seal 23 of the 32 slots available for the cup. Only twenty more teams have a chance to make it into the remaining nine slots—four from the European playoffs, three from Africa, and two from the Confederation playoffs.
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