All 12 remaining teams in CONCACAF qualifying for Brazil 2014 will be in action on 7 and 11 September. takes a closer look at the first set of games, which sees Mexico travel to Costa Rica and USA head to Kingston, Jamaica. With only the top two teams from each group moving on to the final round, fates will become clearer after Friday’s matches.

The big game

Costa Rica-Mexico
Group B’s top dogs face off at Costa Rica’s Estadio Nacional in San Jose on Friday hoping to pick up the three points they need to, at least temporarily, knock the Mexicans off their first-place perch. Led by the play-making abilities of silky Fulham creator Bryan Ruiz and the goals of Alvaro Saborio, who leads the region’s qualifying with four in two games, Los Ticos want to take advantage of a recent stumble for the otherwise high-flying El Tri.

One wonders how damaging the 15 August friendly loss to contentious neighbours USA, the first defeat to their arch-rivals there in their history, could prove for Mexico. That said, they have won both of their qualifiers so far and boast eight members of the side that won Olympic Gold in London last month, including Carlos Salcido and Jesus Corona. Giovani Dos Santos will miss through injury.

The other games
While Mexico suffer the blues of losing at the Azteca, USA are flying high after the historic 1-0 friendly win. They will welcome more road heroics in their Group A game on Friday in Kingston. The Stars and Stripes have never lost to Jamaica in qualifying at senior level, but they rarely get results in the Jamaican capital, at the stadium locals call ‘the Office.’ “We’re hoping to keep up the momentum of our win at the Azteca,” US and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard told in a recent interview.

Many of Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore’s players are based in the USA’s topflight, Major League Soccer. One of them, Ryan Johnson, scored the winner in the last round’s 2-1 win over Guatemala, and his confidence is high. “We can beat USA,” insists the speedy Kingston-born striker, who has called the United States home since the age of two.

The other meeting in the section pits tiny Caribbean hopefuls Antigua and Barbuda against Central American campaigners Guatemala, both of whom are tied on a point. “We want to get through the next two games in shape to reach the final round,” said Antigua and Barbuda boss Tom Curtis, who also coaches the islands’ only professional team, Antigua Barracuda.

The Costa Rica-Mexico clash will draw most of the attention in Group B, but El Salvador will try to add to their one-point haul when they host minnows Guyana, pointless from two games, at the intimidating Estadio Cuscatlan. “We need nine points from our next three games,” was the grim assessment of recently appointed coach Juan de Dios Castillo, who stepped into the El Salvador breach only a few weeks ago after the sacking of Ruben Israel.

Guyana are looking for their first point of a campaign that is already appearing to be more about pride and experience than tangible results.

The marquis match in Group C sees Canada host Panama in Toronto. The Panamanians lead the section on six points with Canada trailing behind on four, and in need of a win on home soil after under-performing against a depleted Honduras in the previous round. “We let two points slip away that day,” Julian de Guzman said of Canada’s goalless draw with Honduras. “We need to sharpen our killer instinct in front of goal.”

Canada’s would-be scorers will have a formidable wall in front of them in the form of veteran Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, who told “We’re ready to fight.”

The other game in the section pits strugglers Cuba against Honduras in Havana with both sides desperate to pick up their first full three-point haul. “The Olympic performance will give us a lot of confidence,” said Honduras striker Jerry Bengston, who impressed mightily in London, scoring three goals as the Catrachos reached the quarter-finals.

What they said
“Jamaica have strong, athletic players and a few guys who know how to move the ball around. They’re like is. When you play a team that cancels you out like that, you need to get the tactics right,” USA goalkeeper Tim Howard to about what it takes to beat a much-improved Jamaica.

The number
11 – The number of goals scored by Costa Rica (6) and Mexico (5) in the two Round 3 games so far, best among the 12 remaining nations. With strikers like Saborio and Chicharito Hernandez on the pitch, fans of attacking football will likely be treated to some goals when the two sides meet.

CONCACAF third round, matchday three
El Salvador-Guyana
Guatemala-Antigua and Barbuda
Costa Rica-Mexico

Have your say
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