With one round of games to go in the north and central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF), the stage is set for any of three teams to be the opponents of whoever is the winner after tonight's fixture between Australia and Syria in the inter-confederations play-off. 

The winner after tonight's match is officially the fifth-placed Asian team, and will meet the fourth-placed CONCACAF team.

Who are the CONCACAF contenders?

The fourth-placed team is currently Panama but could be the USA or Honduras, depending on results. And if it is Panama or Honduras, it could be a lonely stadium for the Australian team. They will need to draw on all the lessons learned from Iran away in 1997 and Uruguay away in 2001. 

    Costa Rica+716
    Trinidad and Tobago-133

    Notwithstanding that it's an away game, the USA is in the box seat, sitting third on 12 points and meeting last place Trinidad and Tobago who have earned just 3 points in the play-offs. They will be desperate to win, not just for the direct qualification to Russia 2018, but also because US Soccer's bid for the first 48-team World Cup in 2026 is due to be decided at the FIFA Congress in Russia next year. They will want their men's team to be there.

    For the USA, the scenarios are:

    • WIN - they will earn direct qualification.
    • DRAW - AND either or both of Panama and Honduras win, the USA will still finish third unless the other two teams can reverse a goal difference that currently stands at +7 and +12 in the USA’s favour respectively.
    • LOSE – AND one of Panama and Honduras win, the Asian winner will be playing-off against the USA.
    • LOSE – AND both of Panama and Honduras win, the USA is out of the 2018 World Cup.

    Vying for the automatic qualification and third position are Panama and Honduras. Both have 10 points apiece, both will meet teams that are already qualified for next year's World Cup, and both are playing at home. 

    Honduras plays Mexico who were the run-away winners in the qualifiers with six wins and three draws for 21 points so far. Panama will play Costa Rica who was second in the group, and is on 16 points with four wins, four draws and one loss. 

    Where will the away match be held?

    The match schedule allows for the two games to be played between 6 and 14 November, with the CONCACAF team to host the first leg. 

    If it is the USA, the match could be anywhere. Their five most recent matches have been held in San Jose California, Columbus Ohio, Commerce City Colorado, Harrison New Jersey and Orlando Florida. It's reasonable to assume that none of these five will be used. They have 37 other stadiums with capacity of 40,000 or more, and six with more than 90,000 (including Columbus).

    Panama has played their World Cup qualifers at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City. Honduras has played their matches at Estadio Olimpico, San Pedro Sula.

    How do we get there? *

    Even with a charter flight, it is likely to stretch the capacity of Qantas' A-380 aircraft and a stopover would be required. The Sydney/Dallas flight is gruelling at 17 hours. Both Honduras and Panama are east of Dallas.

    Without a charter flight, the quickest flight scheduled between Sydney and San Pedro Sula takes more than 27.5 hours at an economy air fare of $4,800 return. If money is an issue, but time isn’t, there’s a $2,100 air fare that will take approximately 41.5 hours one way.

    It’s possible to get from Sydney to Panama City in 26 hours – if you’re willing to spend $16,000 on an economy air fare. The cheapest flight is, by comparison, a bargain at $2,000 for just 33 hours.

    Here’s an idea.

    If Australia succeeds tonight (and we have tipped them to do so), earning the right to play the fourth-placed CONCACAF qualifier, and if it is one of either Panama or Honduras, perhaps FFA could sell economy class seats to supporters.

    With 270 economy class seats on a Qantas 747 charging, say, $2,500 per person, that would offset the cost of the charter by $675,000. If Qantas provided the larger A-380 aircraft for the charter, with 371 economy class seats at $2,500 each, it would reap $927,500. 

    * For the purpose of providing costs and flight times, we have used Sydney as the Australian city but we note this has not been announced, not least because we have not yet qualified for the inter-confederations play-off at the time of  publication. #GoSocceroos

    Categories: News | World Cup

    #roadtorussia, world cup qualifier, afc, concacaf, inter-confederations play-off

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