The USA will head to Cuba for the first time in over six decades this Saturday, highlighting matchday two of group qualifying in North, Central America and the Caribbean. Elsewhere on the New World's treacherous road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, Mexico host Jamaica, Honduras travel to Canada and El Salvador welcome Haiti at their raucous Cuscatlan.
US make Cuban return
Reflecting a simmering political grudge dating back to the dissolution of diplomatic ties in 1961, the United States men's national team has not travelled to Cuba for a game in just over six decades. That will all change on 6 September when Bob Bradley's men - joint-top of Group A after a slim 1-0 win over Guatemala - make the short trip off the southern coast of Florida to take on the Leones del Caribe, led by German coach Reinhold Fanz.
"This game is crucial to us as we hunt a place in the final group stage," said coach Bradley, who included 13 overseas-based players in his side. "With the win over Guatemala we are in good shape and need to keep going." Landon Donovan will captain the USA, while the Cubans, who lost 3-1 at home in their first contest, will be hoping widely-regarded striker Roberto Linares can find his form.
The hosts, who beat the USA 5-2 last time the two met in Havana in 1947, will certainly be able to rely on the unanimous support of the crowd at their Estadio Pedro Marrero. The USA government is not allowing spectators to travel to the Communist stronghold.
T&T and Mexico at home
After an unconvincing win at home against Honduras in the last round, mighty Mexico will host Jamaica at their fabled Azteca. The match was originally scheduled for Kingston, but Hurricane Gustav's fury forced a change of venue. Mexico's Swedish boss Sven-Goran Eriksson has included Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Rafa Marquez, while leaving out Villarreal's Guillermo Franco. Rene Simoes' Jamaicans will be led, as always, by Bolton utility man Ricardo Gardner.
Fellow Caribbean islanders Trinidad and Tobago will host Guatemala in Port of Spain. The Soca Warriors are coming off an impressive win over Cuba in the last round, and will be hoping for more of the same at their Hasely Crawford ground this time. Former Manchester United idol Dwight Yorke is in the team to take on the Carlos Ruiz-led Central Americans, but Sunderland teammate Kenwyne Jones is still out of commission with a knee injury.
"In the last game against Cuba I think we remained disciplined," said Trinidad's Colombian boss Francisco ‘Pacho' Maturana. "That is good news. Now we will try to keep it going against Guatemala."
Canada want Montreal cauldron
The Saputo Stadium in Montreal will need to become a seething cauldron on Saturday if Canada harbour hopes of beating the impressive Hondurans. The Catrachos stretched Mexico in their first group match, while the Canadians managed a 1-1 draw with Jamaica last time out. "I think Honduras will be one of our toughest opponents, maybe tougher than Mexico," said Canada captain Paul Stalteri. "They are peaking at the right time, coming on really strong in the last year. They have some really quick players."
Elsewhere, Rodrigo Kenton's Costa Rica - who edged past El Salvador in their first outing - will take on Suriname, who drew 2-2 with Haiti on the road. The Salvadorans will be slight favourites as they open the gates to their intimidating Cuscatlan Stadium for underdogs Haiti, who hope to add to their one point so far, and look good value for an upset.
McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor
Austria-France, Argentina-Paraguay and Chile-Brazil are among the matches on the opening round of the McDonald's FIFA World Cup Predictor. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up and take a shot at winning a fanstastic trip to South Africa 2010.