Matchday 2 of CONCACAF’s final qualifying Hexagonal gets underway on 22 March, with USA hosting Costa Rica in search of their first points. Mexico could only manage a goalless draw at the Azteca in their first game and now face the daunting task of visiting in-form Honduras. In the region’s undercard, Jamaica, much-improved and looking an outside bet to reach Brazil, host Panama. FIFA.com takes a closer look at Friday’s action.
The big game
Mexico, reigning CONCACAF and Olympic champions, have a point to prove after drawing drably with Jamaica in their Hexagonal opener last month. San Pedro Sula’s Estadio Olimpico is an intimidating ground on the best of days, but now Jose Manuel de la Torre’s wounded El Tri must face a Honduras side flying high atop the six-team standings after an impressive win against USA. “We’re cut out to be leaders,” Mexico’s veteran defender Maza Rodriguez insisted to FIFA.com, despite the rocky start. “Now we have to go out and show it.” With the likes of striker Javier Chicharito *Hernandez, Andres Guardado on the wing, and the tenacious Carlos Salcido holding it all together, the Mexicans do pack a punch, at least on paper.
There’s no tension or anxiety in the Honduran camp, not after their comprehensive 2-1 win over the Americans in which Roger Espinoza, Oscar Boniek Garcia and the predatory Jerry Bengston, controlled the game with seeming ease. After a poor start in the previous round, the Catrachos’ Colombian coach Luis Suarez has blended young players – seasoned at last year’s London Olympics where they reached the quarter-finals – and veteran leadership to forge a fast-moving, hard-working, attack-minded unit.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA play their first home game of the campaign against *Costa Rica *in Denver, Colorado. Tottenham Hotspurs’ combative ace, Clint Dempsey, will be charged with getting the goals and creating chances in attack, while Klinsmann has called in old fan favourite DaMarcus Beasley to spice up a midfield that failed to hold the ball last time out. Michael Bradley adds steel in the middle, while the German coach continues to experiment with an injury-plagued rearguard. Steve Cherundolo and Jonathan Spector are both unavailable with knocks and in perhaps the biggest loss of all, skipper Tim Howard is out with two fractured ribs. Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan will be forced to deputise in goal.
Costa Rica will have mixed emotions about their opening performance. Going down 2-0 to Panama on the road, they roared back to earn a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from their undisputed standouts – Alvaro Saborio, who is top scorer in CONCACAF qualifying, and Bryan Ruiz, the team’s England-based creator-in-chief.
Jamaica play their first home game at the intimidating National Stadium, known simply as The Office to locals in Kingston, against Panama. Coach Theodore Whitmore welcomes back all-time Reggae Boyz *top scorer Luton Shelton, who missed the 0-0 draw against Mexico at Azteca last month into a win had he not been injured. “We’ve never beaten Panama,” said goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. “So, we’ll be extra motivated.”
The Panamanians showed a great deal of speed and resourcefulness in their home opener, but letting a two-goal lead fade away might have a demoralising effect on the Canaleros. “We were low after the game, but there’s a long way to go…the Hexagonal is just beginning,” remarked Panama’s Marcos Sanchez.
* What they’re saying*
“Mexico are still the best team in CONCACAF. It will be tough for us even though we are playing at home. But we’ll be ready for the challenge. We are a humble, hard-working team and we are ready to succeed.” Roger Espinoza, of English Premier League side Wigan Athletic, was inspired inHonduras’ win over USA. He is hoping for more of the same against Mexico as the Catrachos hunt a second-straight appearance at a world finals.
* The number 1 –* Number of goals and points that CONCACAF big names Mexico and USA share between them after one game. The Mexicans failed to score, but their 0-0 draw against Jamaica earned them a point. The Americans, for their part, grabbed a goal through Clint Dempsey, but failed to pick up a point in their loss to Honduras.
* CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 2*
Have your say
Can Mexico rebound on the road against a much-improved Honduras? Will USA overcome their personnel woes to get their first points of the campaign against Costa Rica? Can Jamaica continue to impress against Panama? Click ‘add your comment’ and let us know what you think.*