Round 3 of qualifying for Brazil 2014 in the CONCACAF zone begins in 2012 with the region’s big boys joining the party. Reigning Gold Cup champions Mexico, Central American giants Costa Rica, El Salvador and talented outsiders Guyana comprise what looks the toughest section in the penultimate stage of CONCACAF preliminaries. FIFA.com breaks down the group with a closer look.

1. Mexico
2. Costa Rica
3. El Salvador
4. Guyana

The favourites
Mexico are hands-down the fancied side in the section. The El Tri side led by Jose Manuel de la Torre recently dismantled arch-rivals USA 4-2 to claim their sixth CONCACAF Gold Cup crown and currently boast a bumper crop of gifted young up-and-comers and seasoned veterans. Having won two U-17 FIFA World Cup titles in the last six years – and with the local club system producing starlets en masse – the squad is bursting at the seams with talented options from back to front.

Costa Rica will be right behind the Mexicans in the favourites’ stakes, despite some recent wobbles that saw them tumble disappointingly at the quarter-final stage of the Gold Cup. Coached by Jorge Luis Pinto, and with the outstanding Bryan Ruiz of Fulham in midfield, the Ticos will be a team to fear.

The outsiders
El Salvador are currently on the rise, and could well play spoilers in the group and lay claim to one of the all-important top-two spots. In the last round of qualifying, the Central Americans hardly missed a beat, winning all six of their games, scoring 20 goals (conceding 5) and looking the form team of the round. There is also a dark horse in the pack in the form of lowly Guyana, who have never before reached the penultimate round of qualifying in CONCACAF. Led by Trinidadian tactician Jamaal Shabazz and a raft of foreign-based talent, the Golden Jaguars roared to a first-place finish in the previous round, eliminating once-mighty Trinidad and Tobago into the bargain.

Players to watch
Mexico are led by a raft of outstanding players, a so-called golden generation heralded by their fans as perhaps their best-ever. Manchester United striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Gio dos Santos, Andres Guardado and long-time captain and former Barcelona standout Rafa Marquez are just a few of the names that make up this star-studded side. Costa Rica will be led by young sensation Joel Campbell, recently signed and loaned out by Arsenal, who will be keen to finish off the play-making orchestrations of midfield maestro Ruiz. El Salvador’s Osael Romero scored no fewer than three times in the previous round and Guyana are led by an English-born pair of Corts (Leon and Carl).

What they’re saying
“It’s going be a big ask in this round. We’ll have to go to the Azteca Stadium and everyone knows what’s that’s like. We’re a small country and we have to believe in ourselves. If we don’t believe we might as well pack it in right now,” Guyana captain Leon Cort on his side’s hopes for this round.

Did you know?

- Mexico have qualified for a CONCACAF record 14 FIFA World Cups™ and only ever lost one qualifying match at their national stadium – the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, stage for two FIFA World Cup Finals.

- Costa Rica have won the Copa Centroamericana six times (and its precursor, the CCCF Championship, seven times), making them the most successful national team in Central America.

- El Salvador have qualified for the FIFA World Cup on two previous occasions, first in 1970, and then in 1982. On both occasions they lost all of their games.

- Guyana, a former British colony, are one of only two countries in South America who play in the CONCACAF zone.

Have your say

Which team (El Salvador, Costa Rica or Guyana) will pose the stiffest challenge to continental powers Mexico?