The big guns of North, Central America and the Caribbean enter the South Africa 2010 qualifying fray at the weekend in what, on paper, looks a series of lopsided mismatches.
Regional champions the USA meet Barbados, Mexico take on little Belize and Costa Rica have a date with Grenada. And although the odds-makers will think they have the results of these first leg contests all sorted, massive improvement by some of the region's so-called minnows will raise hopes of an upset or two.
Though the USA media has taken to lampooning Barbados'
attempts to recruit talent through the internet, the island side,
who beat Dominica to reach the second round, can confirm the
presence of Wigan Athletic's Emerson Boyce in the camp.
"We could hit the crossbar five times and they could have the
game of their lives," nervous US captain Landon Donovan - who
recently earned his 100th cap - told
The Americans are coming off a tough trio of friendlies, against England, Spain and Argentina, in which they failed to score a goal in two losses and a draw (against Argentina).
As for Mexico and their new boss-in-waiting Sven Goran Eriksson, tiny Belize, if one uses history as a guide, should be no problem. However, the unfancied Central Americans have pumped a lot of effort into the current campaign and are coming off a 4-1 aggregate win over St. Kitts and Nevis with hopes high. The first leg will be played in Houston, Texas and Belize are dreaming of an upset. "A few years ago maybe we just went out to make up the numbers. But now, we truly believe," said striker Deon Macaulay, who scored twice in the first round.
Ticos up against it
Costa Rica, who have qualified for the last two FIFA World Cups™, will have a potential banana skin in front of them in the form of Grenada, who have in the side Blackburn Rovers striker Jason Roberts and MLS standout Shalrie Joseph. Tico boss Hernan Medford has already warned the nation's fans to expect a tough test in the first leg on the road in St George's.
Also on Saturday, the Golden Jaguars of Guyana will travel to neighbours Suriname hoping to keep their recent upswing in form going. Puerto Rico will be up against it in their second leg in San Juan after losing 4-0 to Honduras in Tegucigalpa last week in the first leg.
Saturday ends with a potential mismatch as St. Lucia travel to Guatemala City to take on Ramon Maradiaga's men. "They have a lot of physical strength," said the recently re-installed Guatemala boss. "It will be no easy fixture for us."
In addition to the high-profile USA and Mexico matches, Sunday will see St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who had a bye through the first round, host Canada in their first game of the qualifying campaign. Haiti, reigning Caribbean champions, will meet the much-improved Netherlands Antilles who knocked out fancied Nicaragua in the last round.
Panama enter the qualifiers with a home tie against El Salvador, while Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica meet up with neighbours Bermuda and Bahamas respectively. The final first leg will take place on Tuesday with modest Antigua and Barbuda hosting Cuba.
Click on the links to the right to read FIFA.com's exclusive stories about CONCACAF's top sides on the eve of their qualifying adventure.
CONCACAF South Africa 2010 Round 2 qualifying:
Saturday 14 June
Puerto Rico-Honduras (4-0 Honduras after first leg)
Sunday 15 June
Trinidad and Tobago-Bermuda
Tuesday 17 June
Antigua and Barbuda-Cuba
The all-important return legs take place next week between 18 and 22 June.