Simulating CONCACAF World Cup qualifying

Posted by Paul Carr, ESPN Stats & Information

The final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying begins Wednesday, as the United States, Mexico and four other countries vie for three automatic berths and a playoff spot against the Oceania champion. Soccer Power Index (SPI) simulated the final round of qualifying and the playoff 10,000 times, with the following results.

* Ranked seventh in SPI, Mexico is a virtual lock to qualify, reaching the World Cup in 97.6 percent of simulations. Costa Rica is next with 80.0 percent odds, and the United States is third at 61.6 percent, narrowly ahead of Honduras at 59.2 percent. Panama has a 46.9 percent shot at its first World Cup berth, and Jamaica is a distant sixth a 17.3 percent.

* Despite notable friendly wins at Italy and Mexico in 2012, the United States' qualifying odds and SPI ranking (38th) are lower than many will expect, given the team’s reputation as a giant of CONCACAF. The low numbers are largely because of subpar results over the previous two years in the most important matches: World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup.

This includes losses at Jamaica and home versus Panama, plus several narrow wins when heavily favored: a 2-1 win at Antigua & Barbuda and 1-0 home wins against Jamaica, Guadeloupe and Panama.

* Three of the United States’ first four final-round games are on the road, beginning at Honduras on Wednesday. The Americans are 3-1-1 at Honduras and have won nine of the past 10 meetings.

But SPI sees the two teams as nearly identical, with the U.S. 38th and Honduras 39th in the rankings. Factoring in home-field advantage, which is worth about 0.8 goals in CONCACAF, and Honduras is a 54.8 percent favorite to win on Wednesday, and the U.S. has a 19.8 percent chance of getting three points.

* Mexico is a massive 87.2 percent favorite to beat Jamaica at Estadio Azteca, where Jamaica is given only a 3.1 percent chance to win. El Tri have won all seven meetings in Mexico by a combined score of 28-2.

Mexico has lost only one of its 74 home World Cup qualifiers and has won 24 straight since its loss to Costa Rica in 2001.

* The target point total for the 10-game final round should be 16 points. In the four previous qualifying cycles under the current format, 11 of the 12 teams to get 16 points finished in the top three and earned an automatic berth.

The exception was 2010 Costa Rica, which finished fourth on goal difference, then lost a playoff to eventual World Cup semifinalist Uruguay.

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