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US banishing 2017 World Cup woe ahead of Panama clash


Miami (AFP) – United States coach Gregg Berhalter says his team have banished memories of their 2018 World Cup qualifying flop as they aim to take a giant stride towards Qatar 2022 with victory over Panama on Sunday.

The latest round of CONCACAF qualifying takes place on Sunday with five teams still in the hunt for the four berths on offer to teams from Central America, North America and the Caribbean.

With Canada all but assured of one automatic qualifying place — the Canadians need only a single point from two games to clinch — it leaves the USA, Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica chasing the two remaining automatic qualification berths or a place in a playoff.

The second-placed USA, who battled to a 0-0 draw away to Mexico on Thursday, take on Panama at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium on Sunday.

A US victory over Panama would seal qualification if Costa Rica fail to beat already-eliminated El Salvador in San Salvador earlier in the day. 

A draw would guarantee Berhalter’s side at least a playoff place, regardless of the result of their tricky final game away to Costa Rica on Wednesday.

Defeat, however, would revive memories of the USA’s shock failure to qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia, when the Americans were beaten by Trinidad & Tobago in their final qualifying game.

In an echo of 2017, the USA also played Panama at home in their penultimate game — on that occasion winning 4-0.

Berhalter said Saturday however that despite the similarities, his players are not dwelling on the past.

“It’s really important not to get ahead of ourselves,” Berhalter said. “We can only control what we can control and that’s what we’re focused on.

“I know there are similarities to 2017. But we’re we’re looking forward. I don’t think this is a group that looks back.

“We acknowledge what happened in the past. It’s part of who we are as US men’s national team players.

“We acknowledge that. But we have to forge our own path, and and tomorrow’s a good time to do it.”

Berhalter took over as US coach in 2019 after a protracted search to find the long-term successor to Bruce Arena, who was in charge for the decisive period of the ill-fated 2018 qualifying campaign.

The 48-year-old former US international, who watched the shattering 2017 defeat to Trinidad from the comfort of his living room, has the chance to finally make amends for that disappointment.

“Since we took over it’s been about positioning the team,” Berhalter said.

“We talked about what we want to do as a group what we’re trying to do as a group, and part of that is qualifying for the World Cup. And this is a step that we that we want to take.

“So tomorrow is an important game to get us in that direction. I’m not sure it’s going to fully get us over the line if we win tomorrow, but we’re going to be doing our best to to win tomorrow, and then we move on and face Costa Rica next.”

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