There are only two rounds to go in CONCACAF’s first group stage of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, and action is coming down to the wire. Trinidad will put it all on the line in Guyana, hoping to avoid the ignominy of an early exit while Canada need a point in St Kitts that will guarantee them a place in the next stage. Haiti are facing elimination with a loss tomorrow as things get tense in the New World.

The big game
Guyana-Trinidad and Tobago
Nerves are jangling in the Trinidad and Tobago camp, despite coach Otto Pfister welcoming captain Kenwyne Jones, Carlos Edwards and LA Galaxy’s Chris Birchall back from injury. “This is a tough time for us, but our class should take us through,” said Lester Peltier, who scored three in T&T’s 4-0 win over Barbados, ahead of the trip to Georgetown, Guyana, where the Soca Warriors need a win to stay alive. Guyana lead Group B by one point and are much improved from recent years. Coached by Jamaal Shabazz, a native Trinidadian and coach of T&T pro side Caledonia AIA, they are keen to shock the competition by moving on at the expense of one of the Caribbean’s major powers. Guyanese captain George ‘Sowa’ Dublin, who has played club football in T&T, is hoping for a buzzing crowd to cheer his side on at the Providence National Stadium. “The public are like the breath of life for us,” he said.

The best of the rest
There should be precious little drama in Group A as El Salvador, with four wins from four games, can guarantee first place and a spot in the next round with a draw from their last two games. Coach Ruben Israel’s first chance to seal the deal comes on Friday in Paramaribo against second-place Suriname. Eliminated Dominican Republic and bottom side Cayman Islands meet that same day, playing only for pride.

Aside from the thriller between Guyana and T&T, Group B will see Bermuda try to keep climbing the world ranking with a home win over Barbados, who have yet to earn a point or score a goal. Both sides are already out of the running for a place in the second group stage.

Group C is already decided with Central American outfit Panama going through from the three-team section, but there is still plenty to play for in Group D. Leaders Canada (ten points) are virtually assured of a place in the next round, but still need one point from their last two games against second-place St Kitts and Nevis (6). The first opportunity to get that crucial point comes on the road in Basseterre tomorrow, the second four days later in Toronto. 

First-place Guatemala booked their passage through from Group E by winning all four of their games to date, thus making their meeting with Grenada at home little more than a technicality. St Vincent and the Grenadines also lock horns with fellow eliminated side Belize with nothing at stake.

It’s all to play for in Group F, however, with section leaders Antigua and Barbuda (12 points) hosting a mouth-watering contest with regional giants and 1974 FIFA World Cup finalists Haiti (ten). A win for the Antiguans, who coach Tom Curtis calls “big underdogs,” tomorrow will see the tiny Caribbean island chain pull off one of the upsets of the round and reach farther than ever before in FIFA World Cup qualifying. 

Player to watch  
Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad and Tobago)
Tall, powerful and brimming with top-tier professional experience, Jones – of English Premier League outfit Stoke City – is back from injury. Made captain by new coach Otto Pfister at the start of the qualifying campaign, Jones has recovered from the muscle tear that saw him miss the Soca Warriors’ last two games, including a shock loss to Bermuda. T&T have not lost a game this campaign with Jones in the squad and Pfister, the Warriors and everyone on the dual-island nation, will be hoping their talisman can deliver the goods once again.

What they said
“We’re playing the kind of soccer that is suited to our particular abilities at the moment. We have the right blend of youth and experience in the team and you can see that it’s taking us to the next level,” Canada skipper and 33-year-old veteran Dwayne De Rosario on why the Canucks are looking and feeling better than in recent campaigns.

The number
43 –
The massive number of goals scored by Haiti (19) and Antigua and Barbuda (24) in their combined eight Group F games so far, an average of over five per game. While clearly superior to previous opponents Curacao and US Virgin Islands, the free-scoring section leaders should expect a tighter, tenser affair when they cross swords for the first time on Friday with everything on the line.

CONCACAF second round, matchday five
Friday 11 November 2011
Dominican Republic-Cayman Islands
Bermuda-Barbados
Belize-St Vincent and the Grenadines
US Virgin Islands-Curacao
Suriname-El Salvador
Nicaragua-Dominica
Antigua and Barbuda-Haiti
Guyana-Trinidad and Tobago
St Kitts and Nevis-Canada
St Lucia-Puerto Rico
Guatemala-Grenada