North, Central America and the Caribbean zone kicked off its final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with a night of drama, agony and ecstasy. The United States beat Mexico in Columbus, Ohio once again in a clash worthy of CONCACAF's biggest rivalry, Trinidad and Tobago wasted a two-goal lead to draw in El Salvador while Costa Rica had a surprisingly easy night with a 2-0 win over Honduras at home.
The night's glamour tie pitted the United States against Mexico in their 56th all-time meeting. Although Mexico have the edge in the series overall, the USA - champions in the region - are very much on the rise. Their 2-0 win in Columbus is evidence of the stars and stripes upward trajectory, their third shut-out victory in three meetings against the old enemy in central Ohio.
From the outset the clash was always going to be a gritty one, defined by passion and spirit more than flowing football and elaborate passing moves. Severe storms tore through the area at kick-off, leaving a swirling, soaking whirlwind for the players and fans to cope with. Michael Bradley, son of head coach Bob, proved the man of the hour scoring a well-worked goal two minutes before the interval and then adding another in second half stoppage time.
If Bradley was the hero, Mexican captain Rafa Marquez was most assuredly the villain. After clashing with American goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 66th minute, the defender was shown a straight red. After the game he apologised for his moment of madness. "I made a mistake," the Barcelona star admitted. "I want to apologise for this error to the fans and my team-mates."
"It's always emotional when the USA and Mexico meet," said American coach Bradley. "Sometimes these emotions can boil over, and that's understandable. It happens," the coach added, diffusing rumours of a bust-up between members of the two teams in the tunnel after the match. The result puts the USA atop the standings, while Sven-Goran Eriksson's Mexico have picked up just one point from their last four qualifiers. The group leaders next take on El Salvador away while Mexico host Costa Rica; incidentally the only team ever to beat them at their Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The Americans join Costa Rica at the top of the six-team group. Rodrigo Kenton's Ticos, who won all of their games in the semi-final round, kept up the pace with a simple 2-0 home win over neighbours Honduras at Saprissa Stadium in San Jose. Andy Furtado, who was one of the Costa Rican revelations at the recently concluded UNCAF Nations Cup, continued his fine form with a pair of goals in a 2-0 win.
In the night's other match from the North, Central America and the Caribbean zone, Trinidad and Tobago looked odds-on for a win after holding a shock 2-0 lead at half time. Carlos Edwards hit home after just seven minutes for the lone remaining Caribbean participants and Dwight Yorke coolly stroked home a penalty in the 27th minute. But a late fight-back at the fabled Estadio Cuscatlan had Salvadoran fans jumping for joy, and the players breathing a sigh of relief. Osael Romero took full advantage and scored twice in the last 11 minutes to earn a share of the points for the ambitious Central Americans. Trinidad captain Dwight Yorke saw a second yellow in the dying moments and will miss the Soca Warriors' next match.
CONCACAF standings after matchday one:
Costa Rica, 3 pts
Trinidad and Tobago, 1 pt
El Salvador, 1 pt
Honduras, 0 pts
Mexico, 0 pts