Costa Rica took the laurels against the odds on Sunday,
eliminating hosts Honduras in heart-breaking fashion to book top
spot in CONCACAF's second Central American qualifying
The host Hondurans - who qualified from North, Central America and the Caribbean for the last FIFA World Youth Championship in Holland in 2005 - opened their account on 9 August with a smashing 4-3 victory over impressive Nicaragua in Comayagua. Darwin Garcia bagged a pair of goals on the day while Jorge Reyes and Jose Carlos Rivera each added a tally of their own in a tough, but fruitful, contest for the homeboys.
Two days later, the Costa Ricans fired a sizable warning shot to their gracious hosts with a 7-1 hiding of the same Nicaraguans Honduras struggled so mightily with 48 hours earlier. César Elizondo and Jean Carlos Solórzano each scored twice, Celso Borges, Juan Cespedes and Esteban Rodriguez all added another for the Costa Ricans.
The two results set up a mouth-watering final contest between Costa Rica and Honduras at a packed-out Municipal Carlos Miranda Stadium on 13 August.
In the tense affair, it was the visiting Ticos that broke the hearts of the home side and their fans. Jean Carlos Solarzano opened the scoring for the visitors after only six minutes, but Juan Carlos Garcia brought it level in the 12th minute. Jonathan McDonald then swooped to put the Costa Ricans ahead once more in the 25th minute, but Jorge Reyes equalised for the hosts on the half-hour mark.
In the end, though, it proved too little for the Hondurans as Costa Rica's goal fest against Nicaragua saw them through by virtue of a superior goal difference.
Costa Rica now join last week's winners Guatemala as the two Central American nations to participate in the final round of qualifying in January of 2007.
Elsewhere, in island action, outsiders the Netherlands Antilles took one step closer to qualifying for their first FIFA finals by finishing tops in Group E of Caribbean pre-qualifying. Wins over Guyana, Aruba and hosts Surinam now see the Antillean side into the second and final round of Caribbean qualifying - where three spots will be up for next year's final qualifying rounds in Panama and Mexico.
In their first game on 6 August, the Antilles struggled mightily and eventually lost out 1-2 to Guyana in a hard-fought match which, in truth, could have gone either way.
Their second affair of the four-team tournament came two days later, and the Antilles made easy meat of Aruba 2-0 thanks to a pair of goals from Sherwin Felesie and Wilmar Jantji. The third and final game against hosts Surinam - who beat Guyana 4-2 in their opening match - proved a tougher contest but one they handled with consummate efficiency.
Striker Janti - whose tally for the competition swelled to three goals in as many matches - was again on the board. This time he was joined by Erikson Rosini on the scoresheet in a nervy 2-1 win over the hosts in Paramaribo as the Antilleans booked first-place in the group.
They now join Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, Trinidad & Tobago and one more first round group victor (yet to be determined) in the Caribbean Second Round Qualification with three of these eight teams progressing to the CONCACAF Final Round.
The region's final qualifying round will include eight teams playing in two groups of four in Mexico and Panama in January of 2007.