A massive three points will be up for grabs on Sunday as Costa Rica search for their first road victory of CONCACAF qualifying for World Cup 2022 when they face Mexico at Estadio Azteca.
On Thursday, El Tri survived a scare, coming from behind to beat Jamaica 2-1 as they sit in third place in the Octagon, while Los Ticos have won back-to-back qualifiers, blanking Panama 1-0.
Typically a shoo-in to qualify for every World Cup, the CONCACAF giants have found that making it through to the finals this time around could be harder than in years past.
Following a 2-1 defeat to Canada at the end of their previous qualification window, manager Gerardo Martino reportedly offered his resignation in the locker room, though if that did happen, his players rejected his offer as he remains their coach.
Should he fail to get this team to the finals, he is unlikely to receive that same vote of confidence from the front office, and at the moment, his team look anything but comfortable, conceding the opening goal in their previous three qualifiers.
Against the Reggae Boyz in their last game, the Mexicans looked sluggish and out of sorts in the opening 45 minutes, falling behind on a Daniel Johnson header early in the second half despite the Jamaicans being down to 10-men at that point.
Eventually, they managed to fight their way back with two goals in the final 10 minutes, ending a three-match winless run in all competitions and remaining in a top three position, which would secure their place in Qatar this upcoming November.
While their three point lead over Panama in the table is by no means a comfortable advantage, you have to fancy their chances of making it to an eighth successive World Cup, knowing that four of their final five qualifiers will take place in Mexico, where they have been virtually unbeatable.
After starting their qualifying campaign without a victory in their first four games, the Costa Ricans have come to life, narrowly beating Honduras (2-1) and the Panamanians as they sit in fifth, two points behind Los Canaleros for a playoff.
They have not shown a ton of quality in those two victories, particularly when it comes to passing the ball, with an accuracy of 72 and 70% in those games, but this veteran group have continued to press and worked hard to squeak out six points.
Luis Fernando Suarez has a ton of veterans and leaders on this team who should be comfortable playing with one another on the field as they are well structured and organised.
The issue surrounding this group in the Octagon thus far has been a lack of creativity in the middle of the field as they do not create a ton of good scoring opportunities, nor do they have much depth in attack, having failed to score in three of their nine qualifying fixtures.
While playing in a place like Estadio Azteca presents its share of challenges both physically and psychologically for any visiting team, Los Ticos can boast something that many can’t, having beaten El Tri in that fortress of a stadium, 2-1 in the qualifying stages for the 2002 World Cup.
Los Ticos have come in second in the final stage of World Cup qualifying over their previous two campaigns, but they will have their work cut out to finish in that same position this time around, currently trailing the USA by six points for second.
Mexico World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
Mexico form (all competitions):
Costa Rica World Cup Qualifying – North Central America form:
We say: Mexico 1-0 Costa Rica
The Mexicans have been shaky and unconvincing, to say the least, but they still know how to get through those tough stretches, and they should be able to push numbers forward and eventually find a breakthrough against a Costa Rican side, who have rarely created much quality to worry other teams in the Octagon.