With only four rounds of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying to go in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone, perennial powers Mexico are trying to claw their way back into the top three. On 5 September 2009, the fourth-placed Aztecas face a tough trip to 'hexagonal' leaders Costa Rica, while USA look to rebound against El Salvador in Utah and Trinidad and Tobago head to high-flying Honduras.
After a dreadful start to the final round of qualifying, in which they lost three of their first four games, El Tri now look to have turned the corner. Winning their last two matches, both 2-1 victories at their Estadio Azteca against T&T and arch-rivals USA, Javier Aguirre's men now face a stern away test as they head to San Jose to take on group leaders Costa Rica. Los Ticos are on 12 points, two more than joint-second-placed sides USA and Honduras (both on 10) and three more than Mexico (9), currently out of the running for one of the three automatic South Africa berths.
Costa Rican are unlikely to be oozing confidence, however, having been thrashed 4-0 by Honduras last month. On the bright side is a home advantage to rival even Mexico's capital cathedral. Rodrigo Kenton's side have won all their matches on Estadio Saprissa's unpredictable artificial surface so far in South Africa 2010 qualifying, scoring 19 goals and conceding just one in seven consecutive wins, including a 3-1 reverse of USA in June.
"We must not lose at home," Costa Rica midfielder Bryan Ruiz told FIFA.com. "Mexico started badly but since the arrival of Aguirre they've come back well and are getting better all the time. We'll need to be focused, united and put our chances away."
The Mexicans will again be without injured captain Rafa Marquez, who watched his Barcelona beat Sporting Gijon earlier in the week from the stands. Giovani Dos Santos and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, recently returned from international retirement, are both in the team. Andres Guardado and in-form forward Miguel Sabah are also expected to start, while young Toluca ace Nestor Calderon comes in for the injured Carlos Vela.
US, Honduras take aim
USA, after blowing an early lead to lose in Mexico last month, face a far simpler task this time out, at home against second-bottom El Salvador. Carlos Bocanegra, disappointing last time out, will wear the captain's armband for the home side, playing their first-ever qualifier in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains at Sandy, Utah's Rio Tinto Stadium. Coach Bob Bradley has included no less than 17 players from the team that finished second at this summer's FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, including creator Landon Donovan and qualifying top marksman Jozy Altidore.
The US have won all seven of their South Africa 2010 home qualifiers and have only ever lost once to El Salvador in their history. "Clearly this is an important game for us," Bradley said. "As we expected, qualifying in this region is very competitive. El Salvador will be hungry to get points and we have an opportunity to position ourselves well to secure a berth for South Africa."
In-form Honduras welcome islanders Trinidad and Tobago, who are desperate to keep their hopes of reaching South Africa alive. Los Catrachos are fresh from a 4-0 victory over of neighbours and top dogs Costa Rica last month as the free-scoring Central Americans look like making a serious run at reaching their first world finals since 1982. T&T, however, are coming off a heartening win of their own, 1-0 over fellow strugglers El Salvador. If Russell Latapy's Soca Warriors are to maintain any realistic hope of reaching their second straight FIFA World Cup, they need points. Languishing in last place in the six-team group, the next four matchdays are make-or-break for the only remaining Caribbean combatants.
On 9 September, just four days after Saturday's busy schedule, qualifying commences once again in CONCACAF. USA travel to Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador host Costa Rica, and Mexico open the Azteca gates to Honduras.