Good or bad, fates will be known on Wednesday and Sunday. Eleven hopeful minnows from Central America and the Caribbean will be booking dates with the region's aristocracy, while 11 more will be drying their eyes, ruing their hard luck and looking ahead to Brazil 2014.
The first pre-qualifying series in North, Central America and Caribbean often resemble a mad scramble as some of Planet Football's smallest and least likely national teams try to book dates with some of the region's top teams in the second round. This year, however, the competition has been fierce and unusually tight. With one notable exception, the contests are still wide open at the half-way mark as CONCACAF's minnows get set for an all-or-nothing week.
Six second legs (and one first leg: Bahamas-British Virgin Islands) will be played on Wednesday. Three tantalising one-off contests will also be played midweek to decide who will move on to play the likes of Honduras, the USA and Mexico in the next round. The competition concludes with two second legs on Sunday: the conclusion of Bahamas-British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands-Bermuda.
In with a shout
One-time Central American no-hopers Belize were among the revelations of the first legs, beating fancied St. Kitts & Nevis by a comprehensive 3-1 scoreline at 'home' in Guatemala. With a cohesive unit and a trio of Costa-Rican based team leaders, the Belizeans will now be firm favourites heading into the second leg in Basseterre. Also hoping to keep hold of a sturdy looking lead are Antigua and Barbuda, who return home to St. John's after having beaten Aruba 3-0 in Oranjestad in the first leg. Led by a stable of Trinidad-based professionals, the Antiguans look to have done the hard part already.
If one contest can be considered categorically over at the half-way mark it would be El Salvador-Anguilla, with the Central Americans holding on to a 12-0 lead. Rudis Corrales scored five goals in the first leg and Anguillan coach Colin Johnson is just hoping to avoid further humiliation. "It's pretty safe to say it is over," he said. "But we still want to show a little bit of pride in the second leg."
One of the shock results of the early February fixtures was Dominica's 1-1 draw with heavily fancied Barbados. The Barbadians, with access to a number of England-based professionals, were guilty of underestimating their hosts in the first leg and coach Eyre Sealy is keen on not repeating the mistake at home in Bridgetown. The Dominicans will be counting on star man Richard Pacquette - of FA Cup darlings Havant and Waterlooville - to come up with the goods in the second leg with another goal at least. "I just want to keep on getting goals," the powerful forward remarked.
Turks and Caicos, whose win over St. Lucia at their new national stadium was their first-ever in qualifying and their first-ever home game, will need to keep their feet on the ground when they head for the away leg. The 2-1 edge is a slender one and all eyes will be on USA-based Gavin Glinton to help keep hold of it for the hopeful part-timers.
The final second leg on Wednesday will pit the Netherlands Antilles and their armada of Dutch-based pros against Central American underachievers Nicaragua. Playing at home and with a 1-0 edge from the first leg, the Antilleans are tipped to progress to the next round.
Due to scheduling problems and lack of proper facilities, three of the region's first round qualifying series will be played over one tense and anxiety-fuelled leg on Wednesday. First up is a mouth-watering clash between near neighbours Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in Bayamon. The host Puerto Ricans have rocketed up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World rankings recently and with Northern Irish coach Colin Clarke in place, they will be fancying their chances of moving on.
Grenada, with USA-based midfielder Shalrie Joseph and Blackburn Rovers striker Jason Roberts included, will take on heavy underdogs the US Virgin Islands in St George's. "We are looking good and tight at the moment," Roberts told FIFA.com. "People will be surprised by Grenada's football."
Rounding out the schedule are two second legs to be played on Sunday 30 March. First is the return clash (four days after the first leg) between the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands in Nassau. The hosts, led by Brazilian boss Neider dos Santos, will be heavy favourites.
The Cayman Islands, though big underdogs on the road in Bermuda in early February, managed to come away with a 1-1 all draw and will be hoping to pull off one of the shocks of the first round by finishing the job at home in Georgetown on Sunday. However, Bermudan boss Keith Tucker has other ideas. "We missed all or chances but we should have scored four or five," he said. "We will make things right in the second leg."
Second legs (Wednesday)
St. Lucia-Turks & Caicos Islands (winner plays Guatemala)
Barbados-Dominica (winner plays USA)
Antigua& Barbuda-Aruba (winner plays Cuba)
St. Kitts & Nevis-Belize (winner plays Mexico)
Anguilla-El Salvador (winner plays Panama)
Dutch Antilles-Nicaragua (winner plays Haiti)
One-off games (Wednesday)
Grenada-US Virgin Islands (winner plays Costa Rica)
Montserrat-Suriname (winner plays Guyana)
Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic (winner plays Honduras)