The final week of a group stage is usually accompanied by fans of the teams involved calculating all the potential outcomes in the standings.
And as Canada’s two crucial World Cup qualifiers draw ever nearer, supporters of the national team are surely doing the same thing.
Group C of the third round of qualifying in CONCACAF has Canada, Panama, and Honduras all competing for two spots in the final round. In fourth place is winless Cuba, which has already been eliminated.
With two matches remaining for each team in the group, Canada find themselves in a unique position.
Since the modern format for qualifying in CONCACAF was first introduced for France 1998, Canada has always entered the final two matches of the third round knowing whether or not they’ll reach the “Hex”, the final round of qualifying.
Usually Canada has been eliminated at this point, and in one case they had already secured advancement.
Two matches remain and things are different this time around with the national team’s chances of reaching the final round very much up in the air.
Here are the situations Canada found themselves in at the same point in previous qualification cycles:
South Africa 2010
With two matches remaining in the third round during November 2008, Canada was already mathematically eliminated from reaching the “Hex”. Honduras and Mexico were both sitting on nine points at the top of the group. Jamaica was third with two points. And Canada sat at the bottom of the table with one solitary point.
Despite earning a respectable draw against Mexico at BMO Field in one of its final matches, Canada’s journey was already over.
It was a similar case as Canada entered its last two matches of the third round already eliminated from qualifying.
Guatemala was atop the group with seven points while Costa Rica and Honduras closely trailed with six. Canada was once again at the bottom with only two points and finished last in the group despite an away win versus Guatemala in its last match.
Korea / Japan 2002
Once again, Canada found itself already eliminated with two matches remaining in the fall of 2000.
Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico had already advanced from the group with 12 and nine points, respectively. Sitting in an overwhelmingly distant third and fourth place were Canada and Panama with one point each.
Despite defeating Panama 1-0 and earning a scoreless draw against Mexico in its last two games, the road to the 2002 FIFA World Cup had been over for quite some time.
Things were a little bit different this time around.
With two games remaining in December 1996, Canada had already secured its passage to the final round of qualifying and sat on top of the group of with 10 points. El Salvador was in second place with four points, Cuba was third with three, and Panama was at the bottom with two.
On top of that, the national team went on to beat El Salvador in its final two matches and finished the group undefeated with an impressive 16 points.
The qualifying campaign for France 1998 marks the last time that Canada reached the “Hex”.
For the first time since CONCACAF has used this format for qualifying, Canada’s future is undetermined with two matches left in the third round.
The first match goes on Friday night at BMO Field against Cuba. And the second goes the following Tuesday away to Honduras where it’s almost certain that Canada will need at least a draw if they hope to advance.
There are many possible outcomes for how Group C will look at the end of next week and surely the notepads of Canadian fans are already filled with a list of all the potential scenarios.