With four points in Group 1 of the CONCACAF Qualifying Zone for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Chapínes are marginal favourites to join section leaders USA in the six-team final group phase. The moment of truth comes next week, though, when two games in four days will decide if their South African dreams remain alive.

The first and most important of these games sees them host Trinidad and Tobago, with whom they are level on points in the group after taking a valuable point in Port of Spain last month. Then comes their trip to Havana, where they must avoid losing to Cuba if they are not to seriously jeopardise their chances and bring their opponents into the equation.

Showtime in the CONCACAF
The Chapínes will go some way to shaping their destiny next Saturday 11 October with the visit of T&T to Guatemala City. The hosts will take confidence from the most recent meeting of the sides, a 1-1 draw in Port of Spain in September, but will not be taking anything for granted. Just three years ago in the same Caribbean city, Guatemala suffered one of the most painful reverses in their history: leading 2-1 with minutes to go, the home side scored twice to seal a dramatic win that effectively allowed the Soca Warriors to the take-off berth for Germany 2006 at their expense.

The pair's overall head-to-head record favours the Chapínes, who have won eight, drawn five and lost six of their meetings, scoring 34 goals and conceding 25. However, the stats for Guatemala's home games are even more impressive, with the Central Americans winning eight times and losing just once, scoring 23 goals and conceding just five.

Encouraging though their home record is, midfielder Freddy Thompson, one of the team's top players, insists overconfidence will not be a factor. "It's vital to win this meeting with a direct rival for qualification, as we're level on points and just ahead on goal difference. Now we have to beat them at home. It's not important if it's 1-0 or 5-0, all that matters is getting three points."

Cuban challenge
Even with a win over T&T, Ramon Maradiaga's side would be far from home and dry. Four days later they face a tricky assignment in Havana, even if Cuba have yet to take a point in the group and lost 4-1 in Guatemala when the pair last met in September.

The records show that on Cuban soil, neither team has dominated in meetings between the two, with each side enjoying two wins apiece and one draw. Both sides have scored three times, with their last encounter in 2002 ending scoreless.

Thompson, however, feels four points from the two games could be enough: "If we open up a three-point lead on T&T, then we have to get at least a point in Cuba. That could see us comfortably through to the next round." Of course, the player's calculations are based on the Soca Warriors losing at home to the USA this month, which is by no means guaranteed.

Given the huge importance of the fixtures, coach Maradiaga has called on all his big guns, including highly regarded striker Carlos Ruiz, to secure the vital points. The time for talking is over, or as Thompson himself puts it, "Now we have to show everything we've got. You can promise all you like, but it's on the pitch where it counts. We simply must win."