Mexico and Honduras will both be desperate to set their qualifying ships right on Wednesday after suffering 2-1 defeats at the weekend. While fourth-placed Honduras lost to regional champions USA in Chicago, Mexico are in the throes of what can accurately be described as an unmitigated crisis after falling to relative minnows El Salvador and slipping to second-bottom in the North, Central American and the Caribbean zone.
The Hondurans took an early lead against the Americans on the road, only to surrender the advantage under heavy pressure from the home side. The Central Americans now have just four points from four games and will need to set their sights on a three-point haul in midweek to revive hopes of finishing in one of the top three spots in the ‘hexagonal,' and assuring direct qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The fourth place finisher faces a play-off with the fifth place side from South America.
The Catrachos will have no easy task, however, as they host an El Salvadoran outfit flying high after a sensational home win over Mexico at the weekend, and are in third place with five points. But all of El Salvador's points in the final round have come at their home fortress of the Estadio Cuscatlan, and Honduran fortunes tend to improve in front of their own raucous home supporters in Tegucigalpa.
Even so, Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda has his concerns. "El Salvador are a very tough opponent, and they will be upbeat after beating Mexico," said the Colombia-born boss. "We did not gain any points last Saturday, so we are up against it. El Salvador work very well as a team. They have proved they have the same chance of qualifying for the World Cup as we do."
It's clear that grit, pride and the desire to be picked in the team are all important. But talent counts, too. Team unity counts.
Mexico, for their part, return home to their Estadio Azteca on the end of a humbling reverse, a sorry homecoming for coach Javier Aguirre in the first game of his second stint in charge of the national team he once played for. Fans and media pilloried both the new coach's tactics and his players' abject performances in San Salvador. It is safe to say that patience is wearing thin among Mexico's football-mad populace, and time is running out, too, as the side, once considered kings in the CONCACAF region, languish second from bottom and with only six games to go and in serious danger of missing out on the world's showpiece footballing event.
On Wednesday the Mexicans face the only side left in the region's qualifying in worse shape than themselves; Trinidad and Tobago. The struggling Soca Warriors have conceded nine goals in four games and their hopes of reaching a second straight world finals are fading fast. Still, Aguirre is nervous ahead of the clash at the fabled Estadio Azteca, where Mexico have only lost one qualifier in their history. "You can't win with just heart and desire," the former Atletico Madrid boss said. "It's clear that grit, pride and the desire to be picked in the team are all important. But talent counts, too. Team unity counts. Many things count and have to add up."
"I'm convinced that we're going to be at the World Cup, but the situation in the standings doesn't help," Aguirre added. "One win from four games, a statistic like this is not nice to look at." Mexico, 13-times finalists, last missed a FIFA World Cup in 1990, when the country was banned for fielding ineligible players in a youth tournament.
While Honduras and Mexico are have had their confidence knocked, Rodrigo Kenton's Costa Rica are riding high in the saddle, leading the final group with 12 points from their five matches. With a game in hand, the Ticos will not play on Wednesday, and neither will second-place USA, as they are en route to South Africa to represent the region at the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup.