With Sunday's 1-1 draw between the underdog Cayman Islands and Bermuda serving to whet the appetite, six more South Africa 2010 qualifiers are slated for North, Central America and the Caribbean on Wednesday.
While the lion's share of the preliminary first-leg contests will see Caribbean minnows in action, Central America's lesser lights will also be dipping their feet in the waters. El Salvador and Nicaragua both play the role of hosts midweek as they take on Anquilla and the Netherlands Antilles respectively.
Ambitious Salvadoran boss Carlos de los Cobos is hoping to get his one-time regional competitors back in line for a third FIFA World Cup™ finals after a severe dip in form over the past two decades. At his disposal are the wildly talented youngsters Dennis Alas and Eliseo Quintanilla, both of whom are determined to give no quarter to the unfancied Anguillans.
Neighbours Nicaragua will also be hot favourites against the Dutch islanders when they meet in Diriamba. Coach Mauricio Cruz will soon find out if a recent training trip to Brazil was worth the effort against a tricky Antillean outfit, containing a handful of players with major Dutch clubs on their CV.
Profoundly unsuccessful Belize round out the Central American combatants for Wednesday's slate as they 'host' St. Kitts & Nevis in Guatemala City. Without an acceptable ground of their own, the English-speaking Belizeans will forgo home-field advantage against a tricky Caribbean side in high spirits and led by USA-based all-star striker Atiba Harris. "Without writing off Belize outright, I am confident we'll win this first leg," the Chivas USA powerhouse told FIFA.com.
The preliminary home-away section of CONCACAF qualifying is dominated by tiny sun-splashed Caribbean islands.
Heavy favourites Barbados will travel to tiny Dominica with nothing less than outright victory on their minds. With a clutch of English Premiership stars such as like Marlon Harewood and Emerson Boyce available to him, Bajan boss Eyre Sealy is already looking past his first opponents and on to the next test: a date with the mighty USA. "We should really beat Dominica," the coach said with an air of authority. "And then why shouldn't we be able to get a result against the States."
Antigua and Barbuda will have far more realistic goals when they
open their account on the road against Aruba. Hopes of success for
the travelling side from the tiny dual-island nation will fall
squarely on the shoulders of their three Trinidad-based
professionals: Peter 'Big Pete' Byers, Gayson
'Bubbler' Gregory and George 'Sowa' Dublin.
The Turks and Caicos islands, on the other hand, make history win or lose. Their Wednesday first leg against St. Lucia will be the first-ever national team game played on the islands and the newly-built National Stadium is bound to be rocking, especially with MLS striker and TCI legend Gavin Glinton in confident mood.
The final first leg will be played on 26 March, just days before the crucial return encounters, between the Bahamas and the British Virgin Islands. The winners from this preliminary round will move on to home-away series with the 12 top-ranked teams in the North, Central and Caribbean zone including the likes of Mexico, the USA, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica.
Three remaining preliminary qualifiers in the region will be played via a one-off format on 26 March. Much-improved Puerto Rico will take on neighbours Dominican Republic while the US Virgin Islands meet Grenada and Montserrat take on Surinam.
Want to read more about the lesser-known New World hopefuls? Click on the links to the right to take a closer look.