The first round of group-stage action in North, Central American and Caribbean qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ claimed its first victims on Tuesday. No fewer than 11 teams dropped out of contention, while Panama booked their passage through and Trinidad and Tobago rebounded from a shock loss.
* Match of the day*
Panama 5-1 Nicaragua
Blas Perez (3) and Luis Tejada (2) were both on target again as Panama made easy meat of Central American neighbours Nicaragua 5-1 to become the first side to reach the semi-final group stage of CONCACAF qualifying. With one fewer matchday than the rest of the sections due to the withdrawal of the Bahamas, Group C’s fate was known early, and Panama – semi-finalists at this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup – are improving on recent strides as they eye a first-ever place at a FIFA World Cup. For group mates Nicaragua and Dominica, however, it’s back to the drawing board and a long wait for Russia 2018 qualifying.
In other action
El Salvador kept top spot in Group A with a 4-0 win over Cayman Islands. The Dominican Republic, who threatened a victory in previous games, finally got the job done with a 3-1 result against Suriname, Jonathan Fana and Erick Ozuna leading the way to a fine road result. Even so, the Dominicans join the Caymans in going out of the competition, with first place to be decided between the Salvadorans and Surinamese.
Trinidad and Tobago rebounded from last week’s shock loss to minnows Bermuda with a 4-0 battering of section basement-dwellers Barbados, a result which sends the Barbadians – pointless from four games and without a goal scored – out of the competition. Guyana are one point ahead of T&T in top spot of Group B after Ricky Shakes’ late goal earned a 1-1 draw with third-place Bermuda, who are no longer in the running.
Canada hit their first hiccup on the qualifying trail, losing their 100 per cent record after recording a goalless draw in Toronto with Puerto Rico, a side they beat easily on the road. The Canucks remain top of Group D with ten points, four more than St. Kitts and Nevis who drew 1-1 with St Lucia. The Canadians and St. Kitts will battle for top spot as Puerto Rico and St. Lucia are both eliminated.
The picture in Group E remains unclear, although Guatemala are in good shape after inflicting a 3-1 on Belize, who cannot now qualify. With Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines not playing their game until Saturday, all involved will need to wait to learn their fates.
Haiti stumbled for the first time in Group F, losing their perfect record with a 2-2 draw at home in Port au Prince against Curacao, who picked up their first point of the campaign. Antigua and Barbuda took full advantage, moving into first place with a freakish 10-0 drubbing of the US Virgin Islands, who are now out of contention after a miserable campaign and they join Curacao in the list of eliminated teams.
* Player of the day – Lester Peltier (Trinidad and Tobago)*
While some of his team-mates and the fans in Port of Spain looked a little jittery after the surprise loss to Bermuda four days ago, former San Juan Jabletoh man Peltier – who now plies his professional trade in Slovakia – took the game against Barbados by the scruff of the neck. The 23-year-old striker settled the Soca Warriors’ nerves with a well-taken goal after just seven minutes and followed up with two more in the second half to bag his first hat-trick in a T&T jersey. With Peltier in this kind of form, captain and go-to man up front, Kenwyne Jones, might just have a tough time getting his spot back when he returns from injury.
What they said
“We couldn’t find the answer tonight. Puerto Rico parked the bus, allowed us to have the ball and waited for us to attack. We played too slow and when we did get our opportunities, we just failed to take them. It’s a real disappointment,” Canada coach Stephen Hart after his side’s dour 0-0 stalemate with Puerto Rico.
The number 8 - The number of goals scored by Peter ‘Big Pete’ Byers in four qualifying games so far, putting him top of the global scoring charts. He is also top scorer for Antigua and Barbuda, who top Group F and have scored no fewer than 24 goals as a team (best in CONCACAF).
* CONCACAF second round, matchday four (Tuesday 11 October 2011)*
Haiti 2-2 Curacao
Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 Barbados
Suriname 1-3 Dominican Republic
Canada 0-0 Puerto Rico
Antigua and Barbuda 10-0 US Virgin Islands
El Salvador 4-0 Cayman Islands
Bermuda 1-1 Guyana
Panama 5-1 Nicaragua
St. Kitts and Nevis 1-1 St. Lucia
Guatemala 3-1 Belize