Round 3 of qualifying for Brazil 2014 in the CONCACAF zone begins in 2012 with the region’s big boys joining the party. Honduras and Cuba are the two seeded teams, alongside Panama and Canada, in what looks a wide open Group C. breaks down the section.

1. Honduras
2. Cuba
3. Panama
4. Canada

The favourites
Honduras will enter the qualifying competition as heavy favourites in a group that promises to throw up a few surprises. With the side having qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, new coach Luis Suarez still has the spine of that successful team to call on, including the likes of Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas. With a style reliant heavily on athleticism, speed and counter-attacking power, the Central Americans, who reached the semi-finals at last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, will be a handful for any foe.

The contenders
While Cuba may be one of the seeded teams – due to their superior ranking at the moment – their passage to the next phase is far from assured. In fact, with Canada and Panama putting in fine performances in the previous phase of qualifying for Brazil 2014, it is a tricky business picking a likely second-place finisher in Group C.

Cuba are rarely involved in the latter stages of qualifying in the CONCACAF zone and are traditionally associated more with their all-conquering national baseball team. Even so, the island’s footballers managed to qualify for last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, although they did bow out without picking up a point. 

Canada and Panama finished their groups well ahead of the chasing pack, with The Canucks conceding just one goal and the Central Americans winning all six of their games, sending a message of warning to the competition ahead.

Players to watch
Honduras are led by English Premier league standout Palacios, who epitomizes the Catrachos brawny, muscular approach. Canada will once again rely on the wily mind and midfield wizardry of veteran DC United schemer Dwayne de Rosario, who is ably backed up by the likes of Julian de Guzman and Netherlands-based ace Atiba Hutchinson. Panama will be counting on a physically boisterous style, much like that of the Hondurans, and strike tandem Luis Tejada and Blas Perez, both of whom play a crucial role in the side’s fortunes, as does goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. For Cuba, one man to keep an eye on is Jaime Colome and another is his younger brother Yoel, a member of the fabled Barcelona youth system in Spain and one of precious few players in the team playing club football outside of the domestic amateur league.

Did you know?
- Honduras have qualified for two FIFA World Cups in their history: Spain 1982 and South Africa 2010. On each occasion they failed to advance past the first round.

- Panama have never reached the finals of a FIFA World Cup, but they do rank as one of the most-improved sides in the CONCACAF zone of late. They reached the Gold Cup final in 2005 and at last year’s tournament they beat the mighty USA en route to the last four.

- Canada have qualified for one FIFA World Cup in their history, in Mexico in 1986 where they conceded five goals and scored zero in their three games. That team included the likes of Bob Lenarduzzi and Carl Valentine, who rank among Canada’s all-time greatest players.

- Cuba were the first Caribbean team to take part in a FIFA World Cup back in 1938, just eight years after they played their first international game. They beat Romania before falling to Sweden in the quarter-finals.

Have your say
Which side is the most likely to challenge Honduras for a place in the final round hexagonal – Canada, Cuba or Panama?