It was a stressful Wednesday night in CONCACAF as USA, Mexico and El Salvador all won by the thinnest of margins. The USA, eliminating Trinidad and Tobago from 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ contention in Port of Spain, moved to the top of the six-team 'hexagonal' table with 16 points, while Mexico's hard-earned victory over Honduras (now third with 13) sees them into second with 15 points. El Salvador, who faced elimination with a loss, kept their hopes alive thanks to an injury-time winner against Costa Rica, who dropped a third straight result and now teeter precariously in fourth place.
Match of the day
Mexico 1-0 Honduras
Goals: Cuauhtémoc Blanco 75'
Mexico came into the game on a high after three consecutive wins over Trinidad & Tobago, USA and Costa Rica, putting right their dreadful start to the final round in which they lost three of their first four games. However, Honduras have been a complicated side in these South Africa 2010 qualifiers and must have been entertaining dreams of picking up their first-ever win in Mexico City after hammering Trinidad and Tobago 4-1 at the weekend. The Mexicans dictated the pattern early, but Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares heroically kept his side in the game with save after acrobatic save. But after Giovani dos Santos was hauled down by Maynor Figueroa midway through the second period, up stepped grizzled veteran Cuauhtémoc Blanco to hammer the ball home and settle the affair at 1-0. At times the contest more resembled a street fight than a football match, as Mexico seemed to be settling a score after two previous losses in qualifying to the Catrachos.
In other action
The United States took control at the summit of the standings but they had to work for their 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, a result that sees the islanders out of the running for a spot in South Africa. Ricardo Clark, the USA's midfield workhorse, was about to be substituted near the hour mark, but he managed to change coach Bob Bradley's mind with a wild, swerving strike from 25 yards that sealed an American win against the proud, though outgunned, Soca Warriors. It was the USA's first road win in qualifying since they beat Cuba in Havana way back in September of last year.
Costa Rica's downward spiral continued on Wednesday as they fell to their third straight defeat at El Salvador's Estadio Cuscatlan. Substitute Rudis Corrales chased down a through ball in the second minute of second-half injury-time and poked home to send the fans into hysterics. On a night when they could have gone out of the competition, El Salvador revived their fortunes and move up to fifth place with eight points, just four behind Costa Rica and five in back of third-place Honduras with two games to go. Rodrigo Kenton's Ticos, for their part, will need to find some motivation fast as they have scored no goals in their last three games (all losses) and conceded eight.
Player of the day - Cuauhtémoc Blanco (MEX)
Coaxed out of international retirement by coach Javier Aguirre, the Chicago Fire creator rolled back the years on Wednesday night. With limited defensive responsibilities, the 36-year-old trickster was at his best and at the heart of every Mexican attack. He rounded off his man-of-the-match performance by keeping his cool to hammer home the only goal from the spot. He put the ball just out of reach of the sprawling Valladares, another candidate for player of the day. Blanco was stretchered off the pitch near the end after a clash of heads, but that didn't keep the old warrior from returning to finish the contest on his feet.
What they said
"I had a feeling I was about to be substituted, so thank God I scored and was able to stay in the game. I'm thrilled to have helped the team. We have a little bit of space in a tight final group now and that's important. We need to get the full three points from our next two games and that will put us in South Africa for sure," USA midfielder Ricardo Clark.
10 - Of the United States' 14 goals scored in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, Landon Donovan - the team's all-time top scorer - has scored or set up no less than ten.
Up next - 10.10.2009
Honduras - USA
Mexico - El Salvador
Costa Rica - Trinidad and Tobago