Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca will host the main event of Matchday 3 of CONCACAF’s final Hexagonal qualifying round on 26 March, when USA and El Tri meet in their ever-heated clasico. Mexico are still chasing their first win of the campaign, while the Americans revived their fortunes after a shaky start with a win last week against Costa Rica. Also on Tuesday, Jamaica head to Costa Rica, a first home game for the Ticos, and undefeated Panama play host to table-toppers Honduras, who take to the road for the first time. looks ahead at what promises to be an action-packed night of qualifying in the New World.

The big game

The hottest ticket in the CONCACAF zone, this clasico is always contentious and spicy – especially at the fabled Estadio Azteca. El Tri have only once lost in their capital fortress, the spiritual home of the country’s football, in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, but the Stars and Stripes will take heart from winning there for the first time last August in a friendly. A number of the American players who took part in that historic 1-0 victory over Mexico will be in the side on Tuesday, such as Geoff Cameron and DaMarcus Beasley.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s Americans head into the encounter - a replay of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which Mexico won easily – in the ascendancy. They dug deep to edge Costa Rica in blizzard conditions in Colorado on Friday, at least partially silencing what was a growing band of critics. “We stayed together and we got the job done,” said team top-scorer Clint Dempsey, who captained the US against Costa Rica in a game more about grit than anything else. “Now, hopefully, we can shake things up in Mexico.”

The Mexicans, for their part, are struggling for form in the Hexagonal, and they may be low on confidence following their disappointing draw in Honduras last week. Coach Jose Manuel de la Torre must have thought he had all three points sewn up in San Pedro Sula after a pair of goals from Manchester United hit-man Javier Hernandez built a 2-0 lead. But a late revival from the home side, who scored two goals in three minutes, saw Mexico’s win turn to a draw, their second on the trot after opening with a desultory goalless draw against Jamaica at Azteca. It means the reigning CONCACAF and Olympic champions must now host their arch-rivals in desperate need of a win. “A draw is better than a loss,” said de la Torre, furious after the debacle in Honduras, “but now we have to deal with the anxiety of not having won.”

Other action
Jamaica have yet to lose or win a game in the Hexagonal, drawing both Mexico and Panama in their first two contests. Now, without injured defender Nyron Nosworthy, they face another tricky test in San Jose against a Costa Rica side that have yet to win, and tasted defeat last time out in the strange, snow-swept game against USA. But led by the scoring prowess of Real Salt Lake all-time top-scorer Alvaro Saborio, the Ticos welcome their first home game of the campaign and hope the strong support at their National Stadium – and the always tricky creative work of midfielder Bryan Ruiz – will be enough to win the day.

Tuesday’s late game sees first-place Honduras travel to Panama City to take on the underdog Canaleros in their first game of the campaign away from home. The Hondurans were impressive in their first two games, beating USA and drawing with Mexico, led by the midfield graft and hustle of Roger Espinoza and the goals of Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengtson. Panama, though, are nothing to sneeze at – Julio Dely Valdes’ much-improved team have drawn both of their games so far and play a high-energy short-passing game that has the potential to surprise the unprepared. 

What they’re saying
“We have nothing to worry about because we got points from our two games and when you look at the bigger scheme of things, once you keep winning points, you are in good stead. If you look at the overall picture we are still close to everybody,” Jamaica goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts ahead of the trip to Costa Rica, where both the Reggae Boyz and the hosts will be desperate to pick up their first wins of the campaign.

The number
7200 - feet above sea level, the altitude of Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca – the only stadium to host two FIFA World Cup finals (1970, 1986). This number, even more than the over 100,000 capacity of its terraces, is the major factor when playing at the ground. The Americans prepared for their visit by training and playing last week’s qualifier against Costa Rica in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, approximately 5,200 feet up – not exactly Azteca elevations, but something close.

CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 3
26 March
Costa Rica-Jamaica

Have your say
Can USA take advantage of Mexico’s anxious start to the Hexagonal and pick up a result at Azteca, or will El Tri, at long last, realise their potential and get the better of their guests from north of the Rio Grande? Click ‘add your comment’ and let us know what you think.