Japan vs. Australia
Tuesday, 6 a.m. (Paramount+)
Japan has been alarmingly underwhelming in the final round of Asia’s World Cup qualifying tournament, losing at Saudi Arabia and at home to Oman. That has left the Samurai Blue, which feature Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino and Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, in third place in one of two six-team groups. Japan is six points out of the top two spots and their automatic qualifying berths.
The third-place finishers in each of the two groups will contest a single-game playoff next spring for the right to advance to an inter-continental playoff for one of the World Cup’s last tickets. That shows you how big the stakes are right now.
Australia, meanwhile, has swept to first place with three straight wins over China, Vietnam and Oman. The Socceroos’ joint-leading scorer in those games, Mitchell Duke, plays his club soccer in Japan’s second division.
England vs. Hungary
Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. (ESPN+, TUDN.com)
Let’s see if the Union’s Dániel Gazdag plays for Hungary as the Magyars travel to London. They are five points out of second place, with three games to go in qualifying. Second-place Albania beat Hungary in Budapest on Saturday.
» READ MORE: More World Cup qualifying games to watch this week
Juventus vs. Chelsea
This week’s slate of women’s Champions League matchups is looking pretty lopsided on paper, but this one could be competitive gold. Juventus has familiar names and skillful players, including Sweden’s Lina Hurtig and Linda Sembrant, as well as Italy’s Barbara Bonansea, Cristiana Girelli and Sara Gama. Can they give a game to Fran Kirby, Sam Kerr, Pernille Harder, and the rest of Chelsea’s stars?
United States vs. Costa Rica
Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN, ESPN+)
Squad rotation to prioritize home games is one thing. A lot of squad rotation to prioritize home games, while on the road against a team that qualified for the last World Cup when you didn’t, might lead to a loss.
In other words, U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter’s decision to make seven starting lineup changes blew up in his face in Panama on Sunday night. The loss is on him more than anyone, since he chose to bring Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and Ricardo Pepi off the bench instead of starting them and subbing them off to keep them fresh.
That said, don’t listen to any shouters who call it a “stunning upset.” Panama’s stingy defense has gotten the team results throughout qualifying, and the Canaleros are now up to third place in the standings.
The U.S. is in second, and for now that’s all that matters. This game is a must-win to stay there, though, with Panama level on points (8), Canada one back, and Costa Rica one more back after a 2-1 home win over El Salvador.
Here are two barometers for measuring the Americans in one of their classic continental rivalries. First, Gregg Berhalter’s team hasn’t scored in the first half in its last eight games. Second, watch left back Antonee Robinson, who didn’t go to Panama because of pandemic quarantine restrictions he’d have faced upon returning to England.
Robinson should start this game, and is well-suited to bring field-spreading width in attack that the U.S. sorely needed on Sunday. A big performance from him could go a long way, especially with Costa Rican star forward Joel Campbell out due to an ankle injury.
Canada vs. Panama
Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. (Paramount+, TelemundoDeportes.com)
Canada’s offense hit a rut at Jamaica on Sunday, as a backs-against-the-wall Reggae Boyz squad put defense first to get a result. Now the Canucks come home to what should be a boisterous crowd in Toronto, for a matchup of two teams right in the thick of the qualifying race.
Honduras vs. Jamaica
Wednesday, 8 p.m. (Paramount+, TelemundoDeportes.com)
Neither of these teams is all the way out of it yet, but if there’s a loser here, that team could be — and that team’s manager almost certainly will be. That’s Fabián Coito for Honduras, in the job for two and a half years; and Theodore Whitmore for Jamaica, a legend of the Reggae Boyz’ 1998 World Cup team who’s been a coach in the program for most of the last 14 years.
Honduras is coming off getting blown out 3-0 at Mexico. If the Catrachos play that poorly again, Andre Blake and Jamaica could have a shot at a result.
El Salvador vs. Mexico
Wednesday, 10 p.m. (CBS Sports Network, Telemundo 62, Universo)
This is one of the most anticipated games of the entire tournament. El Salvador fans have long considered Mexico as one of the teams it most loves to beat, even more than the United States. La Selecta gave El Tri fits at the Gold Cup this summer in a game that was a coming-out party for manager Hugo Pérez’s rejuvenated team.
Expect another electric atmosphere at the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador as the home team goes for what would be its biggest win yet in Pérez’s tenure.
Portland Thorns vs. OL Reign
Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. (Paramount+)
This game is one of three contests rescheduled from the first weekend of October, when the NWSL and the NWSL Players Association agreed to suspend games in the wake of The Athletic’s report on abuse by former manager Paul Riley. It’s a star-studded matchup and a massive one in the standings, as Jess Fishlock and the Reign are now just one point behind Crystal Dunn and the first-place Thorns.
Expect to see further demonstrations of solidarity and protests against the league’s working conditions, including by Portland fans who are refusing to buy concessions at Providence Park.
Note, too, that the NWSLPA asked the league for “Every coach, General Manager, representative on the Board of Governors, and owner voluntarily submit to the Players Association’s independent investigation into abusive conduct” by the close of business on Wednesday. If that doesn’t happen, there’s no word yet on how the NWSLPA will react.