USA and Costa Rica did what they needed to on Saturday night, both sides earning big wins to book passage to the final round of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying in North, Central America and the Caribbean. Mexico, for their part, failed to make it three-for-three with two games to go for CONCACAF's 'big three', losing out to Jamaica in Kingston.
CONCACAF champions the USA had a virtual stroll on home soil at RFK stadium in Washington DC, hammering Cuba to the tune of 6-1. The islanders were struggling even before the opening whistle with news that two of their ranks gone missing from the team hotel, apparently in search of political asylum. Even so, they gave good account of themselves in the early going, scoring through Jenzy Munoz to cut the USA's early lead to 2-1 in the 32nd minute.
But after Yoel Colome was sent off for a second yellow in the 40th minute, the wind seemed to go out of the talented Cubans. Landon Donovan added his 37th goal in a US shirt, Brian Ching moved second in the CONCACAF scoring charts, Jozy Altidore bagged his first goal for the US since moving to Villarreal and hulking Standard Liege defender Oguchi Onyewu even got in on the scoring act.
"It was a real team effort tonight," said two-goal hero Beasley. "."
In the section's other game, ten-man Trinidad and Tobago pulled off a big 0-0 draw in Guatemala City. After the stalemate, the two sides now sit precariously tangled on five points each in second place with a pair of games to go. It looks like it will be coming down to the wire again for the pair, how battled tooth-and-nail for the last CONCACAF qualifying spot for Germany 2006 (eventually claimed after a play-off by T&T.)
Costa Rica will be joining the Americans in the final round of six, after a similarly decisive 4-1 win against Suriname on the road in Paramaribo. After hammering the Surinamese in San José to the tune of 7-0, the Ticos kept up the form on the road. Veteran Walter Centeno opened the scoring in the tenth minute. Young gun Celso Borges made it 2-0 four minutes before the interval and Armando Alonso and Alonso Solis made sure of the result, with Clifton Sandvliet picking up a consolation goal for Suriname, who sit at the foot of Group 3 with only one point.
Jamaica stun Mexico
Mexico were the only member of the region's so-called big three to stumble on the night, and it was an almighty slip-up at that. In a contest that more resembled a street fight than a chess match, Jamaica, who had managed only one point in their previous three games and recently dispensed with Brazilian coach Rene Simoes, pulled off a shock 1-0 win.
In a game that saw seven yellow cards handed out, Stoke City sensation Ricardo Fuller sent the colourful fans at the national stadium (known to locals as The Office) into hysterics with an elegant chip over Oswaldo Sanchez in the 14th minute. The scoreline stayed through to the end despite the best efforts of the previously perfect Mexicans.
El Tri, facing two away dates in Honduras and Canada, now have a tricky run to the final round. They are tangled with Honduras, who beat Canada 3-1 later in the night, with Jamaica in third with four points. Canada are stuck in the basement with one.
The next round of CONCACAF qualifying takes place on Wednesday.