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Standout results in Brazil fuel CONCACAF ambitions

RIO DE JANEIRO — Success for North and Central American teams in Brazil is fueling the region's ambitions for future World Cups.

Costa Rica and Mexico advanced from their groups unbeaten and the United States can follow if it avoids defeat to Germany on Thursday. Even Honduras is in contention despite two defeats.

"To have three teams to the Round of 16 I think will be the first time in history," CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb told The Associated Press. "It would be phenomenal for our confederation."

It would also help CONCACAF press for a fourth guaranteed entry in the 2018 World Cup. FIFA talks are expected this year on allocating the 31 qualifying places to join host Russia.

"It puts us in a great position to confirm the fourth place," FIFA vice president Webb said. "This discussion has to take place between the September and December meetings of the FIFA (executive committee)."

Another big goal for CONCACAF is staging the World Cup for the first time since the U.S. hosted in 1994.

"Everyone knows our desires of hosting the 2026 World Cup," Webb said in a telephone interview from his native Cayman Islands after Mexico beat Croatia 3-1 on Monday.

Mexico, a two-time host in 1970 and '86, and the U.S. are expected to bid, and Canada could also join the contest which should be decided before the 2018 World Cup kicks off.

CONCACAF was next in line for hosting duty when FIFA dropped a continental rotation policy after Africa and South America got their turns.

Still, the confederation's teams are exceeding expectations in Brazil.

"I think the report on CONCACAF at this World Cup has been absolutely tremendous," Webb said. "I predicted two (in the last-16) and I was hoping that at least one team would get to the quarterfinals."

Even that prediction seemed optimistic after Mexico struggled in qualifying last year, and the Costa Ricans and Americans landed in two of the toughest groups.

Costa Rica has been a crowd-pleaser, deservedly beating former champions Uruguay and Italy. It was hardly troubled Tuesday in a 0-0 draw with England to win Group D, and next plays Greece in Recife on Sunday.

The U.S. was within 30 seconds of beating and eliminating Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal before the FIFA player of the year helped create a stunning equalizer in a 2-2 draw.

Webb acknowledges that CONCACAF has been fighting for respect in worldfootball. It had its political and financial problems aired in public after longtime leaders Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer left following a FIFA election scandal in the Caribbean in 2011.

"Definitely I think we have been overlooked," Webb said. "At the end of the day, the performance speaks volumes."

CONCACAF's fast start at the World Cup comes as the Asian Football Confederation slumps, without a victory so far.

The 47-nation Asia bloc already has four guaranteed World Cup entries against three for CONCACAF's 35 FIFA members. Both regions can gain an additional place in inter-continental playoffs.

Mexico earned a fourth spot for CONCACAF with victory over Oceania's New Zealand, but Asia's playoff team, Jordan, lost to Uruguay.

"We deserve the same treatment as the South America and Europe confederations, because CONCACAF is doing a good job," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said.

Webb believes the region's teams are prepared for the World Cup by a busy competitive program. Its Gold Cup championship is two-yearly while the Asian Cup is every four years.

"Our teams are very active," said Webb, who plans to return to Brazil for Mexico vs. Netherlands in the second round in Fortaleza on Sunday. "OurWorld Cup qualifying is a very long and grueling competition."

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