Mexico's desperate 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying plight and a traditionally rivalry between Honduras and El Salvador add dramatic tension to Wednesday's CONCACAF regional qualifying matches.
The Mexicans, who have lost six consecutive road matches, return home to the 105,000-seat Aztec Stadium in Mexico City to face winless Trinidad and Tobago with the loser consigned to bottom of the qualifying table at the midway mark. Mexico last failed to reach a FIFA World Cup final in 1990 and the nation has missed out only three times since 1950.
"I'm convinced we will be in the World Cup finals," Mexico coach Javier Aguirre said. "But the standings don't help. It's not pretty to see." Three of six CONCACAF group teams will advance to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, with pace-setter Costa Rica and second-place USA in strong positions to claim two of those spots.
Costa Rica defeated the United States 3-1 last week in a qualifier that was moved forward so the Americans could prepare for the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009. The Salvadorans cling to third spot on five points, one point ahead of Honduras and two ahead of Mexico with Trinidad and Tobago three back at the bottom of the table.
A winner between the Hondurans and the visiting Salvadorans will be in third place after five of ten matches while the loser could slide behind Mexico or Trinidad and Tobago. The fourth-place side will have the chance to play the fifth-place team from South America for another FIFA World Cup spot, but Mexico was expected to easily be among the top three and avoid such a precarious path to South Africa.
Aguirre, hired in April to replace former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, is the fifth coach in four years for Mexico. He helped rescue Mexico from similar struggles in 2002 and went on to coach in Spain.
Aguirre remains calm
While Mexican supporters are in agony and newspapers declare "Maximum Alert" over the FIFA World Cup struggles, Aguirre calmly points out that Mexico have played three of four qualifiers on the road with four of the last six coming at home.
"The programme and not winning at home leave us hanging by a thread," said Aguirre. "It's tough for any team to win on the road. We have played three away matches in our first four and El Salvador played three of their four at home."
Humbling road losses at Honduras and El Salvador and another in the prior round at Jamaica have added pressure upon every home start for Mexico, which will host arch-rival United States in August and visit Costa Rica in September.
"There's still time. We're not even halfway done," Aguirre said. "They must come to us. We have a chance to recover. The final table is the one that matters. What's for sure is that six games remain and four will be at home and we have to put those points up."