How Canada can qualify for the men’s World Cup after Thursday’s loss

The Canadian men’s national soccer team is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup for just the second time ever.

The squad has been the class of CONCACAF up to this point, finding itself at the top of the standings 12 matches into the final round of qualification, recording only a single loss.

With two matches to go, Canada’s path to qualification is straightforward. Even if the team falters and fails to notch a single point from this point forward – a notion that long-suffering fans can’t quite get out of their head – it is still plausible that Canada could be part of the men’s World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Here is a breakdown of the various paths and permutations that could leave Canada with a berth in Qatar.

ONE MORE WIN OR DRAW

Canada’s next qualifying match takes place Sunday afternoon against Jamaica at BMO Field in Toronto.

This provides the squad with their simplest path to victory. If they win or draw, they’re in.

By handing Canada its first loss in the final round of qualifying on Thursday, Costa Rica launched itself into fourth place in the standings, six points behind first-place Canada. Wins count for three points, draws one point and losses zero points. The top three teams punch their ticket to the World Cup, so if Canada beats or draws with Jamaica, they will be out of Costa Rica’s reach and automatically qualify for the tournament.

Even if Canada loses to Jamaica, they can still qualify for Qatar if they win or draw in Panama during the final game March 30.

Canada’s chances of clinching on Sunday are looking good. The Jamaicans are already mathematically eliminated from progressing any further and have only recorded one victory in their first 12 matches, though they did manage to hold Canada to a scoreless draw when they hosted them last October.

Panama didn’t do itself any favours by drawing 1-1 with Honduras on Thursday, falling back into fifth place, but given the current makeup of the standings they may still be fighting one last effort for a chance to qualify.

TWO LOSSES CAN STILL DO IT

Even if Canada loses both of its final qualifying games, the outlook is still bright.

If Canada falters down the stretch and Costa Rica wins its last two matches against El Salvador and the United States, it’s possible for the two teams to be tied in the standings in terms of points. But Canada still has the edge when it comes to goal-differential, which is the tiebreaker in this scenario.

Canada has scored 13 more goals than its opponents in this round of qualifying, while Costa Rica has scored only two more goals. So, unless Costa Rica can make up that 11-goal deficit in two games, Canada will still finish in the top three and secure a spot in the World Cup.

AT WORST, THERE’S A PLAYOFF GAME

In the worst-case scenario, Canada still has one last chance to make it to the big tournament.

Canada can finish no worse than fourth place. The fourth-place team in CONCACAF qualifying participates in a single playoff match against a team from the Oceanic Football Confederation (OFC) for one of the final spots in the big tournament. This game will take place in Qatar on June 13 or 14.

The OFC opponent has yet to be determined, but we know it will be either New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea or Tahiti.

If you are already thinking beyond the next set of fixtures, the next big date to keep in mind is April 1, when the groups for the World Cup will be drawn. The tournament itself will be held between Nov. 21 and Dec. 18, with most matches taking place during the morning hours in North America due to the time difference with Qatar.

CURRENT STANDINGS

  1. Canada (x) – 25 points, 13 goal differential
  2. U.S. – 22 points, 9 goal differential
  3. Mexico – 22 points, 6 goal differential
  4. Costa Rica – 19 points, 2 goal differential
  5. Panama – 18 points, 1 goal differential
  6. El Salvador (e) – 10 points, -7 goal differential
  7. Jamaica (e) – 8 points, -7 goal differential
  8. Honduras (e) – 4 poinds, -17 goal differential

Legend: (x) – assured of interconfederation playoff; (e) eliminated from contention

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Anthony Vasquez-Peddie

Correction:

A version of this story, published before to Sunday’s match between Canada and Costa Rica, incorrectly stated Panama and Costa Rica were tied in the standings. Panama at that point was one point ahead.

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