Qualifying campaigns in the North, Central American and
Caribbean Zone have traditionally been dominated by heavyweights
Mexico and the United States, but surprise results remain a common
currency in the region. Who can forget Jamaica's historic
qualification for France 1998, for example? Or more recently
Trinidad and Tobago's dramatic play-off success that sealed a
place at Germany 2006?
Read on as FIFA.com takes a look at some of the highlights of preliminary phases gone by.
In Honduras, the pain of defeat in the second qualifying round for Germany 2006 still rankles. Los Catrachos were upset by unfancied Guatemala, who - led by inspirational forward Carlos Ruiz - forced their way through to the final six-team qualifying round alongside Costa Rica.
In fact, Honduras have been involved in several of the most
exciting groups in recent memory. Back in the race for a spot at
Spain 1982, Honduras and El Salvador both made it through from a
group including a Mexico side spearheaded by goalscorer supreme
Hugo Sanchez. The
Tricolor would have their revenge on the road to
Korea/Japan 2002, however, defeating the Central Americans in their
final game to qualify alongside the USA and Costa Rica.
There are many observers who point to 19 November 1989 as the day the United States' were reborn as an international footballing force. On home territory in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago needed just a draw to qualify for Italia '90. Yet up stepped the USA's Paul Caligiuri to grab the only goal of the game and earn his country a place at the showpiece event, the first of an unbroken series of five consecutive appearances at world football's top table.
It would take 16 years for T&T to banish the painful memories of that fateful match. With Port of Spain the setting once more, the islanders held their collective breath as coach Leo Beenhakker guided his charges to an historic 2-1 win over Mexico and with it a play-off against Bahrain for a place at Germany 2006.
There is no doubt that Jamaica's qualification for France 1998 triggered some of the most flamboyant celebrations ever seen. The Reggae Boyz, who had failed even to reach the final qualifying round for USA 1994, stormed ahead of the likes of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Canada and ensured their supporters cut a colourful swathe across French soil that summer.
One side to have consistently punched above their weight are St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The national team of the tiny Caribbean archipelago have managed to qualify for every second qualifying phase in the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone since 1994 and continue to make progress. After losing every game in their first appearance at that stage, last time out they picked up a brace of wins against fellow surprise packages St. Kitts and Nevis.
Given the region's footballing make-up, CONCACAF's biggest sides clash with remarkable frequency. As a result, supporters can look forward to showdowns of the calibre of Mexico-USA, Costa Rica-Honduras and Jamaica-Trinidad and Tobago every four years, historic encounters that could well be repeated on the road to South Africa 2010.