CONCACAF giants USA and Mexico both won at home on the first night of semi-final round qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, but the ruling pair face far sterner tests in hostile territory on Tuesday. The Mexicans will need to improve as they head to San Salvador for a date with the Cuscatlecos, and the Stars and Stripes – who laboured to beat tiny Antigua and Barbuda last week – head south to Central America and a date with Guatemala.
The big game
The Salvadorans won all six of their second-round qualifying games last year, and they began their semi-final round in some style as well, picking up a tough point on the road in Costa Rica. Now, though, the Central Americans face a tougher test in CONCACAF champions Mexico, who didn’t quite hit the high notes in their 3-1 win over lowly Guyana. It will be the Custatlecos’ first game of the round at their Estadio Cuscatlan, a noisy, intimidating ground – the largest in Central America - where they rarely lose. “The fans were right to jeer us at the Azteca,” said Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, aka Chepo. “Things need to change, they need to change fast.”
The best of the rest
The USA will need a better performance in Guatemala City than they put in against Caribbean underdogs Antigua and Barbuda three days ago. Despite winning 3-1, the Americans – who have qualified for every FIFA World Cup since 1990 – looked unsteady against their island opposition. Guatemala lost their opener 2-1 to Jamaica in Kingston, but will likely be energised by their traditionally boisterous support, united against the giants from North America. “We were not good enough against Antigua and Barbuda,” said USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann, in the job for 11 months. “We need to be better in Guatemala, and we will be.”
The other game in Group A will pit the men from the tiny islands of Antigua and Barbuda against Jamaica, a more traditional Caribbean power. It will be the first home game of the round for The Benna Boys, at their humble Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, a cricket ground in sunny St. John’s.
Mexico and El Salvador square off in the marquis match of Group B, where Guyana and Costa Rica will also cross swords. More heralded teams than the Guyanese have lost 3-1 against Mexico at the Azteca, and the Golden Jaguars will be fancying their chances when the Ticos come to Georgetown. Guyana, located in the dense jungles of northeast South America, is a difficult place to get to, swelteringly hot, and a hostile environment for the Costa Ricans, who are still without injured playmaker and talisman Bryan Ruiz.
Group C’s road warriors, Canada and Panama, return home on Tuesday hoping to repeat their away feats of Friday night on more familiar fields. The Canadians, who breezed through their second-round group, earned a 1-0 win in Havana against Cuba in their last outing, despite being reduced to ten men. This time, however, they will face Honduras, a traditional bogey side, and one smarting from their 2-0 loss at home to Panama, who will host the Cubans in Panama City.
What they said
“The USA is seen in a special way in Central America and I know it’s about more than just soccer. It is a special set of circumstances, and my players and I will be prepared for the crowd, the pitches, the great animosity and passion,” USA coach Klinsmann to FIFA.com about the challenges facing his Americans on the road in Central and Latin America. His first taste of the simmering passions will come on Tuesday in Guatemala City.
11 – The number of goals scored by El Salvador in their three homes games at the Estadio Cuscatleco in the previous round of qualifying - they conceded only two. Mexico will need to be at their very best when they enter this seething Salvadoran cauldron.
CONCACAF third round, matchday two
Antigua and Barbuda-Jamaica
Have your say
Can Mexico and the United States keep up their winning ways on the road on Tuesday, or will the lack of home-cooking hurt these CONCACAF giants?