While they may not be among the region's footballing hotbeds, CONCACAF countries Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic are nothing if not rivals. Every February the two nations battle it out for regional supremacy in a contest that generates fierce passion and enormous interest among fans.
But contrary to what you might think, the tournament in question
- the Caribbean Series - involves not football, but baseball, the
most popular sport in both their territories.
In 2008, though, the Boricuas and Quisqueyanos will renew their rivalry in a setting more familiar to readers of FIFA.com: a 110m x 75m football pitch. As well as a chance to put one over their eternal rivals, at stake will also be a place in the second preliminary round of the CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
A learning curve
To be fair, neither side are among the region's footballing powers. More than anything, they will be seeking to gain valuable competitive experience as they set out on the long and difficult road that is the North, Central American and Caribbean zone preliminary tournament.
At first glance, the Dominicans look to be favourites after recording a shock win over Cuba at the last Copa de las Antillas. However, the Croatian coach Ljubomir Crnokrak who presided over that impressive win has since crossed the border to manage Haiti, a major setback for the Quisqueyanos.
In spite of that, the mood in the Dominican camp remains upbeat, as confirmed by Osiris Guzman, president of the country's FA. "We feel quite comfortable heading into the Puerto Rico tie, because we already know them. We've also grown stronger thanks to the Copa de las Antillas."
Indeed such is his confidence that the president is dreaming of springing a surprise in the subsequent round. "Against our next opponents Honduras, things will be different, as they are a footballing power. Still, we don't fear anyone."
However, it would be unwise to write off the Puerto Ricans, who also feel entitled to dream. And while their recent results have not been very encouraging, the team can count on a solid core of players from the Puerto Rico Islanders, who compete in the USA's second flight, and star man Jason Hernandez, currently set to play his trade with Major League Soccer's recently revived San Jose Earthquakes.
Given the pair's proximity and long-standing rivalry, you would expect the Boricuas and Criollos to have crossed swords on many occasions. Yet this is far from the case. The two have faced off only eight times in 29 years, and not since 1999. And while the Dominicans have a far superior record to their rivals - six wins, one draw and a solitary defeat - that Puerto Rican triumph came in the biggest game between the two. It took place on 21 March 1992 in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, where Puerto Rico came away with a 2-1 win to end the home side's interest in the qualifying race for USA 94.
Hitherto, results have gone the way of Dominican Republic who, aside from their aforementioned success at the Copa de las Antillas, also racked up two wins at the Copa del Caribe, a tournament the Boricuas did not even take part in. In fact, you have to go back to 1995 for Puerto Rico's last official game, when they went down 3-1 to Guadaloupe.