Jun 20, 2014, 9:37 PM EST
The beauty of knockout tournaments is that conventional wisdom goes out the window and storylines build themselves.
It’s often evident in environments such as the NCAA Tournament and professional sports playoffs, where teams built for long-term seasonal success face one-and-done situations that become their demise.
North and Central American teams from the CONCACAF federation are raising plenty of eyebrows this World Cup, giving fans of countries along the corridor plenty to smile about, and validation that their region is no laughing matter.
It’s also doing more than giving people notice – it’s earning them points, valuable points as they push towards unlikely knockout round positions.
Costa Rica was drawn into the “Group of Champions” alongside Uruguay, Italy, and England. They’re already into the next round. The United States was apprehended into the “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.
Often dismissed as inferior by those following European and South American teams, the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States at this point are…at risk of horrific jinx consequences…undefeated against the likes of Italy, Uruguay, Brazil, Ghana, and Cameroon.
That means 28th-ranked Costa Rica has beaten the 7th- and 9th-ranked teams, 20th-ranked Mexico held 2nd-ranked Brazil, and the 13th-ranked US exorcised awful demons against 37th-ranked Ghana and has the chance to make noise Sunday vs. 4th-ranked Portugal.
Only Honduras remains without a win, but even Los Catrachos showed signs of life in their 2-1 loss to Ecuador.
For more (current before the Honduras loss to Ecuador):
Percentage of possible World Cup points won vs other confederations so far: CONMEBOL 73% CONCACAF 72% UEFA 44% CAF 19% AFC 17%—
Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 20, 2014
The real noise is made during the knockout rounds of course, but with Costa Rica already through, Mexico in a very solid position, and the United States has an opportunity to continue CONCACAF’s shocking run.
Costa Rica proved tactically superior to both Italy and Uruguay, as the genius of Jorge Luis Pinto befuddled Uruguay with a dangerous counter-attack and shackled the Italian stars with a structurally sound back five.
If the US can at least pull out a draw against Portugal, something which is not considered a long-shot but is by no means an expected result, CONCACAF teams will have secured at least eight points of a possible 12 against top-10 FIFA ranked teams, and as many as 10 of 12, an incredible result.
And if we’ve learned anything from Costa Rica’s pair of wins, it’s that superior tactics can often outweigh superior talent, something the United States will likely lean heavily on against both Portugal and Germany.
But will this be enough to have an impact on future FIFA rulings involving World Cup qualifications? A lot has been made of talk that Asia and Africa could be given another guaranteed spot, taking one from Europe. And that makes no sense – but would be very FIFA.
However, CONCACAF has not been quiet about its desire to earn its fourth qualification spot as guaranteed rather than stuck in the playoff with Oceania as it stands now. They lobbied for a fourth guaranteed spot back in 2011 but were denied the spot for this summer’s Cup.
While Oceania has never provided a challenge – a struggling Mexico side dominated New Zealand 9-3 over two legs – there is a certain pedigree about owning four guaranteed spots, the same amount that South America currently has.
There’s plenty more to be played, and two or three surprise performances don’t justify a jump in qualifying procedures, but if the federation continues to produce points and results, there could certainly be discussions for future tournaments.
CONCACAF is on the rise, there’s no question about it, but is the federation here to stay? The United States and Mexico both have chances to stake their claim to that question.
Nov 21, 2014, 1:35 PM EST
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Nov 21, 2014, 12:50 PM EST
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Nov 21, 2014, 12:40 PM EST
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Nov 21, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
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Nov 21, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Here’s how PST’s lead writer and editor sees things panning out this weekend.
Nov 21, 2014, 11:05 AM EST
So to the MLS players, coaches and “media members who regularly covered the league”, sit back and enjoy your biggest screw-ups.
Nov 21, 2014, 10:14 AM EST
Welbeck is used to being on the side of the favorites in this matchup, as Manchester United has dominated the series in recent years.
Nov 21, 2014, 9:25 AM EST
Danny Welbeck’s first Premier League game against his former team is just one subplot as the Gunners host the Red Devils.
Nov 21, 2014, 8:41 AM EST
All Americans plying their trade in the Premier League have a decent look at points, while two in the Championship will opening things up with Friday matches.
Nov 21, 2014, 7:49 AM EST
Paris Saint-Germain has claimed the last two Trophées with wins over Bordeaux and Guingamp, but this year’s table is clustered.
Nov 21, 2014, 12:17 AM EST
Swansea manager Garry Monk is hoping for the best as the Swans journey to play Manchester City at the Etihad this weekend.
Nov 20, 2014, 11:42 PM EST
Coupled with a breakout year from Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones’ skill and leadership have guided the New England Revolution to one of Major League Soccer’s most cohesive units.
Nov 20, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Mascherano: “Messi didn’t say anything weird, he said what all football players are thinking.”
Nov 20, 2014, 9:24 PM EST
Alan Pardew has enjoyed newcomer Ayoze Perez’s huge impact, as the young Spain international has netted three goals in three consecutive matches.
Nov 20, 2014, 8:19 PM EST
Following widespread discontent, convicted rapist Ched Evans won’t be back on the field for Sheffield United as expected.
Nov 20, 2014, 7:32 PM EST
Meet the supporters of D.C. United, an MLS club steeped in tradition since the league’s inception.
Nov 20, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Tim Howard unsurprisingly takes U.S. Soccer’s Male Athlete of the Year award.
Nov 20, 2014, 5:10 PM EST
Wigan Athletic shirt sponsors have ended their contract with the club due to Malkay Mackay’s illicit text messages.
Nov 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
“It would be a scandal and a shame if they did not give [Ronaldo] the Ballon d’Or,” says Pepe.
Nov 20, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini are set to stay at Juventus with fresh deals.
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