A stumble in Kingston on Saturday has placed CONCACAF giants Mexico in troubled waters. While Costa Rica and the United States and can put their feet up having secured their passage to the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone final qualifying round at the weekend, El Tri face a crucial Wednesday test in Edmonton.
A shock Mexican loss in Kingston on Saturday to a resurgent Jamaica threw semi-final Group 2 into disarray. The Mexicans, who have qualified for the last four FIFA World Cups™ from CONCACAF, and 13 out of 18 overall, are second in the section with two games to go and now face two tricky away tests needing results. Honduras' 3-1 win over Canada sees the Catrachos on top of the group with nine points (tied with Mexico, but with a better goal difference), Jamaica are in third on four and Canada are playing only for pride with one.
Mexico's next test is against the Canadians on Wednesday. And although they have yet to win a game in their campaign, they represent a wounded and dangerous opponent boasting the likes of Tomasz Radzinski and Paul Stalteri. Julian DeGuzman will miss out with a thigh injury, but the return of Dwayne De Rosario from suspension will be a boost.
With only the lone point from a draw against Jamaica to comfort the eliminated northerners, a result in their final home game against arguably the region's top dog will be a desperate desire.
"We really have to respect our rivals," said Andres Guardado. "Even if the Canadians are out of the competition, that doesn't mean they will be easy to beat. They will be playing for pride and be giving 100 per cent, which will make them dangerous. To beat Mexico is a highlight for teams in this region and they will be going for it."
Spots up for grabs
In the other two groups, the situation is simpler, with only a pair of qualifying spots for the final six-team group available. The United States, reigning CONCACAF champions, laid claim to one of the places on offer in Group 1 with a 6-1 hammering of Cuba in Washington DC on Saturday. Costa Rica, Central American champions and qualifiers for the last two FIFA World Cup finals, did the same in Group 3, thrashing Suriname 4-1 to bring their tally to 12 points from four games.
"You never want to take anything for granted, and you don't want to leave anything to chance," USA star Landon Donovan, who scored his 37th goal in a USA jersey in the rout of Cuba, told FIFA.com. "Now coach Bradley has a lot of flexibility to do what he wants to do."
El Salvador, who are undergoing a massively impressive renaissance under Mexican coach Carlos de los Cobos, pulled off a workmanlike 0-0 draw on Saturday against Haiti in Port au Prince, bringing their points tally from four games to seven. They host Suriname on Wednesday in a game they are expected to win easily, thus ensuring their place in the final 'hexagonal' with one game to go in November against a likely depleted Costa Rica side.
Over in Group 1, ten-man Trinidad and Tobago earned a creditable draw against Guatemala on the road on Saturday. Both sides are now tangled on five points behind already qualified USA and ahead of Cuba, who have picked up no points in their four games.
Guatemala have a slight edge on goal difference with a date against Cuba in Havana on Wednesday. Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana's Trinidadians will be hoping to avenge their 3-0 loss in Chicago when the US arrive in Port of Spain, with an experimental squad in midweek.