There are just four rounds to go in CONCACAF’s qualifying Hexagonal for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and there’s all to play for. Leaders USA will want to increase their gap at the top with a positive result in Costa Rica, while struggling Mexico face an absolute must-win at home against Honduras, and Jamaica try to stave off elimination with a new man at the helm.
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The big game
A home game at the Azteca is normally cause for cockiness in the Mexican camp. But this is no normal qualifying campaign. While a recent friendly win over Côte d'Ivoire is cause for cautious optimism, home fans in Mexico City have yet to see their side produce anything approaching their best football in the qualifying Hexagonal. El Tri are third in the six-team field, with just eight points from six games. An even more troubling statistic is the fact that these Mexicans, FIFA World Cup participants on 14 occasions, have picked up only three points from three draws at the Azteca, a ground where they are historically dominant.
Despite star names in the side like Gio Dos Santos, Jesus Corona, Chicharito Hernandez and Andres Guardado, Mexico will take to the Azteca pitch with doubts radiating from the stands. It’s make-or-break time for coach Jose Manuel Chepo de la Torre. And Honduras, who are just one point behind their hosts in fourth, are desperate to take advantage of the slightly poisoned atmosphere and join USA, Costa Rica and Jamaica in taking points off Mexico at the Azteca. Although Luis Fernando Suarez’s Hondurans, who are looking to qualify for their second straight FIFA World Cup finals, have yet to pick up a point on the road in "The Hex", confidence is justifiably high. Oscar Boniek Garcia of MLS side Houston Dynamo causes headaches up the flank and could well tip the balance for the Catrachos. He was influential in the 2-2 draw the Hondurans pulled off against Mexico in San Pedro Sula in March. “We have become more confident now; we are ready,” the winger told FIFA.com.
While Mexico stutter and sputter, their arch-rivals and northern neighbours USA are oozing sunshine and confidence ahead of their trip to Costa Rica. The Americans, recently crowned CONCACAF Gold Cup champions, are in the midst of an unprecedented winning streak and sit comfortably in first place in the Hexagonal with 13 points. Even so, a game on the road in Costa Rica is a tough test for Jurgen Klinsmann. The Ticos
have revenge on their minds after barely losing the first meeting with the States in blizzard-like conditions in March. Costa Rica, who sit in second place just two points off the Americans’ pace, have reinvented themselves as a sturdy defensive side in recent years. They’ve conceded only three goals so far, but they will have a torrid time trying to keep out a USA in attacking mood and looking for their first win in San Jose in qualifying history. Jozy Altidore, currently in the form of his life with six goals in his last four games for the national team, is a doubt after picking up a hamstring injury with club side Sunderland. Even so, captain Clint Dempsey, the speedy Eddie Johnson, and recently-returned creator Landon Donovan offer the Americans plenty of options in attack.
Gold Cup runners-up Panama host Jamaica in a clash of the bottom two. Neither side can afford to slip up. Panama, on six points, are in decidedly better shape than Jamaica, who have only two, but the only remaining Caribbean participants arrive in Panama City with a new coach: German veteran Winfried Schaefer. “We can not lose this game,” he told FIFA.com after taking the reins of a Reggae Boyz side that have scored only once in six games. “This is make or break if we want to reach Brazil.”
What they’re saying
“Mexico is going to the reach the World Cup. It is our obligation as a team and a nation and we are going to fulfil it.” Mexico coach Chepo de la Torre, one day after a meeting of football authorities convened to decide his future. It will take results rather rhetoric, however, to sway frustrated fans.
The number 12 – The number of consecutive wins USA have managed in an extremely productive period under coach Klinsmann. It is the longest current winning streak in international football, and only three games shy of Spain’s world record set in 2009.
CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 76 SeptemberCosta Rica-USA
Panama-Jamaica* *Up next
*Have your sayCan the USA keep up their winning ways in Costa Rica, or will 13 wins in a row prove a step too far? Can Mexico and Jamaica rebound from their poor form in the Hexagonal? Click ‘add your comment’ and let us know what you think.*