Panama, a victor against Costa Rica, will be there for the first time â thanks, in part, to a goal that did not happen. It was such an auspicious occasion for the country that the next day was immediately declared a national holiday. The United States, beaten by Trinidad and Tobago, will not be there, the shining brilliance of Christian Pulisic not enough to prevent the country from missing its first finals since 1986.
Honduras might yet qualify, thanks to a win against Mexico, but only if it can beat Australia, which edged past Syria, the decisive goal coming after 199 minutes of 210. That is one of the intercontinental playoffs for a place in Russia; the other features New Zealand and a Peru team indebted to David Ospina, the Colombia goalkeeper, and an eagle-eyed referee. Peru and Colombia tied, 1-1, in Lima. Peruâs goal came from Paolo Guerrero, scoring direct from an indirect free kick. Had Ospina not touched it, the ball would still have gone in, but Peru would be out. Such are the margins. In recent days, such has been the drama.
So great is the lure of Europeâs club competitions and so compelling are the endless soap operas around their teams, that it is easy for those in the countries that have appointed themselves the sportâs heartlands to be dismissive of international soccer.
The Champions League, after all, is now the gameâs gold standard, where greatness is achieved and contested. PelÃ© and Diego Maradona built their legends at World Cups, back when that was the only place where the very best assembled, and when it was the only time much of the rest of the world could see, and assess, them. Messi and Ronaldo, by contrast, meet their peers every other…