While CONCACAF's so-called minnows are already engaged in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, last week saw a return to action for the region's leading lights.
USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and the rest the elite all took to the pitch for friendly action. However, in what will be a troubling surprise to expectant fans, none of the four teams that qualified for Germany 2006 managed to achieve victory on Wednesday.
Clasico lives up
Mexico and USA battled, almost inevitably, to stalemate in Houston in what has become, hands-down, the hottest rivalry in the region. The tension was as evident as ever when, before over 70,000 fans, Chivas defender Jonny Magallon scored twice to equal strikes from Oguchi Onyewu and teenage sensation Jozy Altidore in a 2-2 thriller.
"It's an emotional rivalry," said US goalkeeper Tim Howard after a game that drew a frenzy of feedback from FIFA.com users. "It's always going to be an exciting game, no matter how well the teams play. We're still trying to find ourselves as a team a little bit before qualifying (for South Africa 2010), but we're getting results."
The youthful, somewhat experimental USA will be pleased to have kept their impressive home record alive against their Southern neighbours, and added to recent wins over Sweden, South Africa and Switzerland. It is now ten tries and nearly ten years since Mexico won on US soil, while the Americans have never won a game south of the Rio Grande - factors no doubt leading to another exciting instalment of the decades-long rivalry when qualifying begins.
Both USA and Mexico will surely be happier, though, than Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago, who both drew against unfancied opposition.
*Tico* and T&T trouble ** Victor Nunez's 78th-minute effort against Jamaica in Kingston looked like earning Costa Rica victory, but the hosts roared back in the closing stages - largely thanks to the drive of captain Ricardo Gardner and a goal from Tyrone Marshall - to force a 1-1 draw.
The Ticos have qualified for the last two FIFA World Cups but are in the midst of a rocky patch. As Costa Rica boss Hernan Medford, who only days earlier saw his team draw with Iran, left the Jamaican capital with that old sinking feeling, his opposite number Rene Simoes was pleased with his Reggae Boyz. "The result is good for us," the Brazilian said, before urging patience for the younger players."We didn't play the best game, but we controlled it and can count that as a positive."
Island neighbours Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, had precious few positives to take away from their goalless draw with tiny Guadeloupe, who caused a sensation by reaching the semi-finals of last summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. With the likes of Stern John, Densil Theobald and Sivio Sann in the team, the result was met with disbelief and shock in Port of Spain.
Francisco Maturana, who recently took over the T&T reins from Wim Rijsbergen, now knows the enormity of the task ahead of him. "I can't know all the problems in one day, but I am sure of one or two now," said Maturana, who admitted to being impressed only by big Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones. "The players did not acquit themselves and only played in parts."
The Guatemalans, who only just missed out on qualifying for Germany 2006, would have been delighted if their 5-0 defeat by a young Argentina - their first-ever meeting with the Albiceleste - had ended in a goalless draw. Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain scored twice as a Juan Roman Riquelme-led (and largely under-23) squad overwhelmed the lethargic Chapines in Los Angeles, California.
The rout was too much for coach Hernan Dario Gomez, who promptly resigned upon returning to Guatemala City. "I've been here for two-and-a-half years without making any headway," said the former Colombia and Ecuador boss."My dreams have been shattered."
If Guatemala's fortunes are shrouded in gloom and self-doubt, neighbours Honduras are oozing sunshine and confidence after their 2-0 win over South American contenders Paraguay, who were admittedly without first-choice strikers such as Roque Santa Cruz. Captain Amado Guevara and Carlos Costly scored the goals early in the second half in San Pedro Sula as Honduras look to return to their first FIFA World Cup since 1982, when they made their debut in Spain.
In other action, surprise Caribbean champions Haiti looked lively and impressed with a 1-1 draw in Venezuela, just days after holding a resurgent El Salvador. Canada, meanwhile, did the expected and beat Martinique 1-0.