Tuesday’s slate of World Cup qualifiers across the globe promises to deliver an extraordinary amount of drama, even by the high standards that the world’s game so often sets.
Here’s a look at the biggest games on the schedule and how to watch them.
North and Central America
The United States’ 4-0 win over Panama on Friday righted the ship in emphatic fashion. A day later, the Americans got a huge favor from perennial rival Costa Rica in the form of a 95th-minute tying goal at home against Honduras. U.S. fans can send their thank-you cards (or perhaps tweets these days) to a familiar name: Kendall Waston, the Ticos’ scorer, plays his club soccer for MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps.
Because of Waston’s heroics, the U.S. needs only a tie in Tuesday’s final round finale at Trinidad & Tobago to secure its ticket to Russia. The Soca Warriors have long since been eliminated from contention, so the roster is young and inexperienced. But those players gave a star-studded Mexico squad a scare on El Tri’s home turf Friday, before ultimately falling, 3-1.
The biggest headline is the battle for fourth place between Honduras and Panama. The survivor gets one more lifeline to qualify, by way of a home-and-away playoff against Australia or Syria in November (more on that later).
Honduras and Panama have 10 points each, with Panama ahead on goal difference (-2 to -7). Honduras will host Mexico, which has first place locked up; and Panama will host Costa Rica, which has second place locked up.
If Honduras and Panama both lose, the U.S. would qualify for the World Cup even with an upset loss at Trinidad.
How to watch the games
All three games kick off at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Trindad & Tobago vs. United States: beIN Sports, beINSports.com and go90’s mobile and tablet apps in English; Universo and TelemundoDeportes.com in Spanish
Honduras vs. Mexico: beINSports.com in English; Telemundo and TelemundoDeportes.com in Spanish
Panama vs. Costa Rica: beINSports.com in English; TelemundoDeportes.com in Spanish
Why isn’t the U.S. game on a more prominent channel in English? Similar to college sports, each home team controls its broadcast rights for World Cup qualifiers. Back in 2014, Trinidad’s federation gave its rights for the qualifying cycle to the Caribbean Football Union, a sub-regional governing body, which in turn sold the rights to a third-party broker that signed deals with beIN and Telemundo.
The broker was Traffic Sports, the infamous entity that was busted in the Department of Justice’s investigation into global soccer corruption. Although Traffic is all but dead, the contracts remain in effect. They even survived a lawsuit by Trinidad’s federation earlier this year that attempted to break them.
The biggest talking point in all of world soccer right now is the possibility that Lionel Messi and Argentina won’t qualify. And it’s very, very possible. Argentina sits in sixth place out of the 10 teams in CONMEBOL’s grueling free-for-all, behind Peru on the second tiebreaker of total goals scored.
Messi and company must now go to Ecuador, whose home stadium in Quito is at an altitude of more than 9,100 feet. Although Ecuador is eliminated from qualifying, it has talent in Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and Mexican powerhouse Tigres’ Enner Valencia (they aren’t related).
Argentina hasn’t won a World Cup qualifier in Ecuador since 2001. La Albiceleste is loaded with stars, such as Juventus’ Paulo Dybala and Paris Saint-Germain’s Ángel Di María. But the team has failed for some time now at trying to build a winner around Messi. No player, not even he, can do it alone.
That’s just one piece of the continent’s drama. Second-place Uruguay (28 points) is just three points ahead of Argentina (25) in the standings, so it needs a result at home against Bolivia. Third-place Chile (26) goes to first-place Brazil (38), the only team that has already qualified. Fourth-place Colombia (also 26) goes to fifth-place Peru (25). And seventh-place Paraguay (24), which will host Venezuela, isn’t out of the picture.
The top four teams will get automatic spots, and the fifth will play a home-and-away playoff against New Zealand in November.
How to watch the games
All games across the continent will kick off at 7:30 p.m., and will be available in full via beINSports.com. beIN Sports’ Spanish channel will carry Ecuador vs. Argentina, and will likely have live look-ins at the rest. English audio will be available for all the games online, and on the TV feed via the SAP function on your remote control.
beIN will also live-stream all the games except Ecuador-Argentina through a pay-per-view offering on YouTube. That deal also includes Honduras-Mexico and Panama-Costa Rica. So it’s all the games across the Americas that beIN has rights to, except the two on its linear TV channels.
The Netherlands needs a miracle to make it to Russia. In third place in its qualifying group, the Oranje must overcome a 12-goal differential when they host second-place Sweden in Amsterdam. That means winning by at least seven goals.
(This story originally said the Dutch need six goals. The math was wrong. Apologies.)
If the Dutch don’t pull it off, they’ll miss the World Cup for the first time since 2002, and just the second time since 1990. It would be quite a fall from grace for the nation that finished second in 2010 and third in 2014, and gave the world Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp. But it wouldn’t be entirely surprising, as the Dutch didn’t make last year’s European Championship, either.
France sits atop the same group by one point. Les Bleus need to equal or better Sweden’s result to ensure they stay in first place, which would mean direct World Cup qualification. The best eight second-place teams from Europe’s nine qualifying groups will be drawn into two-team, home-and-away playoffs that will be played in November.
Another big game is Portugal vs. Switzerland. The Swiss are in first place (27 points), and Cristiano Ronaldo’s team is in second (24). A Swiss win or tie would send Portugal to the playoffs; Portugal, with a win, would take first place on goal difference
Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin and Bosnia would very much like to be in those playoffs, but it isn’t going to happen. Bosnia’s wild 4-3 home loss to Belgium on Saturday allowed Greece to jump into second place by two points, 16 to 14. Bosnia now goes to Estonia, while Greece hosts tiny Gibraltar — which has given up 43 goals in nine qualifying games so far. But even if Bosnia wins and Greece miraculously loses, that still wouldn’t be enough. Bosnia would have the lowest points total of all the second-place teams, and would thus be the odd team out.
How to watch the games
All games kick off at 2:45 p.m.
France vs. Belarus: Fox Sports 2, FoxSportsGo.com (free with authentication if you get Fox Sports 2) and FoxSoccerMatchPass.com (paid subscription) in English; Univision Deportes and Univision.com (free with authentication) in Spanish
Netherlands vs. Sweden: WatchESPN.com in English; ESPN Deportes in Spanish (and WatchESPN.com, free with authentication if you get ESPN Deportes)
Portugal vs. Switzerland: Fox Sports 1, FoxSportsGo.com (free with authentication) and FoxSoccerMatchPass.com (paid subscription) in English; Fox Deportes and FoxSportsGo.com (free with authentication if you get Fox Deportes) in Spanish
Estonia vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina: WatchESPN.com in English and Spanish
Greece vs. Gibraltar: FoxSoccerMatchPass.com
If you’re reading this story Tuesday morning, the odds are pretty good that you’ve already missed the second leg of Asia’s last-hope playoff series. Australia hosted Syria in Sydney at 5 a.m., and prevailed 2-1 in extra time. Tim Cahill, now 37 years old, scored in the 13th and 109th minutes after Syria took the lead in the sixth.
The result brought an incredible soccer fairy tale to an end. While a gruesome war raged at home, Syria played its “home” games in Malaysia — and got to the playoff with a 93rd-minute tying goal at Iran. The first leg against Australia featured another dramatic late goal in a 1-1 tie.