Trinidad and Tobago, the lone remaining island contenders, open their 'hexagonal' account with a potentially hazardous road test on Wednesday night in San Salvador. El Salvador last qualified for a world finals back in 1982, but under Mexican coach Carlos de Los Cobos they are going from strength to strength. And much to the visitors' chagrin, the Cuscatlecos' Estadio Cuscatlan is one of those venues that usually has travelling teams shaking in their boots.
However much they would have liked to open with a comfy clash at their Hasely Crawford ground in Port of Spain, the Soco Warriors - who finished second behind the USA in Group 1 of the semi-final round of qualifying - are not likely to be overawed by a trip to the Salvadoran fortress. "You can't go around worrying about where you're playing and speculating for results," Dennis Lawrence, the team's 74-times capped centre-back, told FIFA.com in a recent interview. "We need to play our style of football, which is an attacking and attractive style, no matter where we find ourselves... at home or on the road."
The lanky Lawrence, who is currently on loan from Swansea City at Crewe Alexandra in England's League One, may be on to something seeing as how the Soca Warriors - who created a sensation in the region by reaching their first FIFA World Cup™ finals in Germany in 2006 - managed to pull off two crucial results on the road in the previous round. Under well-travelled Colombian tactician Francisco 'Pacho' Maturana, they managed a win over Cuba and a draw with Guatemala away from the comforts of home. They also managed to be routed 3-0 by the USA in Chicago, so it's not an exact science.
On the other side of the coin, El Salvador lost only once at their hallowed ground - the largest in Central America and the Caribbean with an unofficial capacity of over 53,000 - tucked away on the outskirts of the Salvadoran capital. Having already qualified for the final round, the Central Americans lost to Group 3 winners Costa Rica on the final matchday of the penultimate round of qualifying.
It's a dangerous thing to change up the way you play depending on where
you are. We'll need to focus
on keeping the ball and playing the way we know we can on the ground.
Facing down a tricky away day, T&T's player-coach Russell Latapy, now 40 and fresh off his second return from international retirement, is in full agreement with Lawrence about the overall philosophy. "It's a dangerous thing to change up the way you play depending on where you are," said the former Porto and Rangers man. "We'll need to focus on keeping the ball and playing the way we know we can on the ground."
The Soca Warriors will be bolstered by the arrival of their entire Britain-based brigade to camp in San Salvador on Sunday. For only the second time in this qualifying campaign, Maturana will be able to call on the influential Sunderland duo of Dwight Yorke and striker supreme Kenwyne Jones. While former Manchester United ace Yorke sat out this weekend's 2-0 win over Stoke City in the English Premier League, Jones - who recently signed an extended deal with the Black Cats - kept up his fine form with another goal.
The core of T&T's domestic-based players are fresh off a week-long training camp in Argentina, hoped to provide Maturana - who travelled to LA to watch El Salvador beat Peru in a friendly at the weekend - with a firm base of organisation ahead of the crucial final 48 hours of preparation in the capital.
Having qualified for the finals in Germany, where they pulled off a famous draw with Sweden before tumbling out in the first round, expectations are high on T&T to repeat the feat and book passage to the first world finals in South Africa next year. "The expectations are heavy on us this time around," Jones, who was out for several months last year with a serious knee ligament injury, recently admitted to FIFA.com. "The fans are expecting us to make it. We're giving it our best shot and I think that we have the kind of talent to make a return to the World Cup."
The two other matches from the final round of North, Central American and Caribbean final round qualifying on Wednesday night will pit the USA against Mexico and Costa Rica against neighbours Honduras. You can follow all the action from the USA-Mexico qualifier in Columbus, Ohio LIVE via FIFA.com's EMIRATES MatchCast on 11 February. Be sure to sign on and have your say using our exclusive fan chat application.