The high-power trio of Mexico, Jamaica and Honduras are jockeying for only a pair of tickets to the final 'hexagonal' round from semi-final Group 2. Also hoping to cement their place in the final round on 19 November will be Trinidad and Tobago, who hold a big advantage over hopeful Guatemala in Group 1. The two graduates from Wednesday's action will join USA, Costa Rica and El Salvador in next year's final round of North, Central American and Caribbean qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
All eyes will be firmly fixed on Group 2, where either Mexico, Honduras or Jamaica will go out of the running. The Mexicans, shocked by a resurgent Jamaica last time out, travel to San Pedro Sula to take on Reinaldo Rueda's Honduras, who El Tri struggled to beat in their first meeting at the Azteca.
Drama reigns in Group 2
Sven-Goran Eriksson's Mexicans will be desperate to avoid missing out on their first finals since 1990. They are currently at the top of the section with 10 points from five games, but Honduras are right behind on nine and Jamaica - who expect to beat eliminated Canada at 'the Office' in Kingston - could make ten points enough should other results go their way.
A win or a draw would be enough to see Mexico in, but if they lose to Honduras - a distinct possibility considering the Catrachos' current form and the fact that they have not won on Honduran soil in nearly twenty years - would mean the Mexicans could tumble out if Jamaica rack up enough goals against Canada (click on Three teams, Two Tickets to the right to see all the possible permutations).
If Mexico and Jamaica both win, they would both go through at the expense of the Hondurans, led by their panther-like striker David Suazo and veteran captain Amado Guevara. It is a tangled web indeed and former Liverpool star John Barnes, in his first official match since taking over as Jamaica boss, is keen to get things going.
"We have to focus on ourselves," the former Celtic manager, recalling Hull City's Marlon King for a bit of extra firepower, told FIFA.com. "We need to get our result and hope things go our way. The team has been playing really well and hopefully they can be as good as they were when they beat Mexico and Honduras."
Mexico's manager is of similar mind. "I'm pretty optimistic," said Eriksson, even though Mexico have not won in Honduras since 1993. "Just because we've lost there before doesn't mean we're going to lose this time. I've called my best players in and I'm not worried about what Jamaica does or doesn't do. It's up to us to do our best."
The Swede has called in Nery Castillo, Barcelona defender Rafa Marquez, Andres Guardado and Arsenal sensation Carlos Vela, but he will have to make do without injured defender Jonny Magallon.
Trinidad in line
Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana's Trinidad and Tobago look likely to take hold of the final place in the ‘hexagonal', lining up at home against already eliminated Cuba. They have a three-point cushion between themselves and chasers Guatemala, who need a win in the USA to have a hope of moving on.
The return of 40-year-old creator Russell Latapy and the inspired play of Dwight Yorke has seen the islanders rebound from a poor start. Both scored in the 2-1 win over the States in Port of Spain last month to put the Soca Warriors one step closer to their second consecutive world finals.
"We just need one more good game," said Latapy, knowing a draw would see them through. "We'll just have to go right at Cuba and get the ball into their goal. We'll attack like we always do."
Elsewhere, Costa Rica will take on qualified runners-up El Salvador with nothing on the line as both Central American sides qualified from a lopsided Group 3 with games to spare.