On Wednesday 14 October Central American neighbours Honduras and Costa Rica will battle it out for the one remaining direct berth from the region for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Regional superpowers USA and Mexico both stamped their tickets to the global showpiece on Saturday, and with El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago both out of the running, either the Costa Ricans or Hondurans can claim the third and final spot leaving the other to face a treacherous home-away play-off against South American opposition. FIFA.com takes a look ahead to the midweek stand-off.
The big games
Honduras, surprise high-flyers up to this point, will need to shake off the disappointment of their first home loss of the campaign - a 3-2 heart-breaker to the USA suffered on Saturday - and focus squarely on the task at hand in El Salvador. With the host Cuscatlecos clearly keen to finish off their creditable campaign with a fitting finale, the Catrachos look like having their work cut out. Anything less than a win for Reinaldo Rueda's men would mean they remain fourth and face the unenviable task of a play-off with South America's fifth-place finisher, set to be one of Argentina, Uruguay or Ecuador. A win would not, however, guarantee the Hondurans third place, with the Costa Ricans able to shore up third with three points in the USA. If Costa Rica draw their game in the United States and Honduras win, the pair will be level on points but the Hondurans would go through in the automatic third spot by virtue of superior goal difference.
Costa Rica, who revived their flagging campaign with a 4-0 win over eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday, take on USA in Washington DC. The Central Americans, under new coach Rene Simoes and led by the suddenly free-scoring Alvaro Saborio, are on 13 points in third place (two ahead of Honduras) and a win in the US capital against what is likely to be a stripped down American side would guarantee them a place in their third straight world finals.
Mexico, already qualified after routing El Salvador at the weekend, travel to Trinidad and Tobago - eliminated for two full matchdays now following a disastrous campaign - for what on paper looks one of the easier fixtures of their campaign. The Mexicans, currently second, could still finish first in the section with a win provided USA draw or lose their game against Costa Rica. In reality though, there are little more than bragging rights on the line.
Players to watch
Alvaro Saborio (CRC) and Carlos Pavon (HON)
New boss Simoes seems to have breathed new life into the foundering Costa Ricans. Building a team of veterans for his first match in charge, the Brazilian also put his faith in 27-year-old striker Alvaro Saborio during the weekend's 4-0 rout of Trinidad, in which the player - on loan to Bristol City from Swiss side Sion - scored twice and set up another. Alternatively, Carlos Pavon - top scorer in Honduran history - endured a day to forget last time out in the Catrachos' 3-2 home loss to USA. A win in San Pedro Sula would have put the Hondurans into the driving seat in the hunt for the region's final spot, but the grizzled war horse and goal getter missed a penalty kick and a stone-cold sitter in the six-yard box. Surely, he will be desperate to make amends on Wednesday in San Salvador.
318 - Costa Rica's dismal run of form came to a welcome end 27 minutes into their weekend clash with Trinidad and Tobago. Although there was more than a hint of good fortune about the first goal of their 4-0 win - T&T defender Julius James put through his own net - it brought the curtain down on a 318-minute run without a goal in qualifying.
What they said
"We're thinking one game at a time, and that is that. We have a very tricky test ahead of us [against the USA] and that is the game that we must think about. We have a chance to qualify directly and we will try to seize it. We are not thinking about play-offs or Argentina or things down the road that we can't control, we are only thinking about winning our games now," Costa Rica's Brazilian coach Rene Simoes.
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