The group phase of the region's qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ begins on Wednesday, and a glance at the squad lists of the teams in action reveals just how global the game has gone in recent years. Returning for international duty are a host of players based in footballing outposts as far flung as Poland and China.

With the football world smaller than ever, more and more CONCACAF players are taking the opportunity to play their club football abroad, allowing them to experience different cultures, raise the standard of their game and also help their respective national teams improve in the process.

Mexican talent, international demand
For many years Mexico was among the few high-ranking sides in the world not to feature a core of Europe-based players. With the notable exceptions of Hugo Sanchez and Rafa Marquez, Tricolor coaches always looked to the powerful local leagues for their personnel.

Times have changed, however, and a generation of young players have decided to seek glory across the Atlantic. New coach Sven Goran Eriksson's squad list features 12 players who play for foreign clubs, and adding an even more cosmopolitan feel to the team are four footballers who were born outside Mexico but who are proud to pull on the green jersey.

El Tri's fierce regional rivals USA have boasted a sizeable contingent of exiles for several years and no fewer than 12 exiles have been called up for the clash away to Guatemala.

Not to be outdone, northern neighbours Canada can call on the services of ex-pats such as Deportivo La Coruna's Julian de Guzman, Atiba Hutchinson, who plays in Denmark, and Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad, both of whom are based over the border in the United States.

Central America's exports
Few would dispute that Honduran striker David Suazo is Central America's greatest footballing asset. Currently leading the Inter Milan attack, the man known as 'The Panther' is the standard bearer of a European brigade that also features compatriots Julio Cesar Leon (Parma), Edgar Alvarez (Roma) Wilson Palacios and Mynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic), without doubt the most talented group of players to emerge in Honduras in the last 20 years.

While their biggest adversaries Costa Rica will miss the services of the legendary wanderer Paulo Wanchope, who retired just a few months ago, the likes of Alvaro Saborio (Sion), Bryan Ruiz (Gent), Junior Diaz (Wisla Krakow) and the most distant emigrant, Erick Scott of Chinese outfit Shanghai Shenhua, are now flying the Tico flag in his place.

Guatemala have an international explorer of their own in Carlos Pescadito Ruiz, who has made quite a name for himself in Major League Soccer. A lethal finisher, the Toronto FC striker usually inhabits the upper reaches of the goalscoring charts and was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 2002.

With the young Dennis Alas having signed for Luis Angel Firpo after a spell in the US, El Salvador's sole international representative is their star player, Eliseo Quintanilla, who runs out for Alajuelense in Costa Rica.

Caribbean crusaders
Yet North and Central America's foreign-based corps pale into insignificance when compared to that of their Caribbean counterparts. The island nations are a prime example of how the experience gleaned by players abroad can yield improved results on the pitch.

Heading up the Jamaican community in England are Deon Burton (Sheffield Wednesday), Ricardo Gardner (Bolton Wanderers) and Ian Goodison (Tranmere Rovers), and fellow Reggae Boyz can also be found plying their trade in Norway, the US and Canada, who, incidentally, take on Jamaica in Toronto on Wednesday.

Likewise, Trinidad and Tobago regularly call on the services of players stationed in Europe, although two of their most famous faces will be on the sidelines when the Soca Warriors take on Cuba in Havana. Sunderland veteran Dwight Yorke is out with injury and Southampton's Stern John has been dropped.

Although Haiti may be a lesser light in the region, they do have a pool of overseas names to call on and cast their net as far afield as France, Netherlands and the US. Suriname, meanwhile, has a long tradition of producing quality footballers, many of whom have turned professional and sought fame and fortune with Dutch clubs.

The only Caribbean team with an entirely domestic squad is Cuba, although that does not mean to say they lack international experience. Coach Reinhold Fanz recently took his charges on a 15-match tour of Germany to prepare them for the campaign ahead, and given the global profile of their local rivals, it should stand them in good stead.