Round 3 of qualifying for Brazil 2014 in the CONCACAF zone begins in 2012 with the region’s big boys joining the party. Giants USA, under new leadership, will be favourites in Group A alongside Caribbean powers Jamaica and Guatemala and shock side Antigua and Barbuda. FIFA.com breaks down the penultimate round of preliminaries in North, Central America and the Caribbean, which begins next June.
4. Antigua and Barbuda
Having qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ nine times, including the last six, USA will be the team to beat in this section. Pedigree, organisation, and history aside, however, the Americans are currently suffering a crisis of confidence and form. They lost the final of last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup 4-2 to arch-rivals Mexico and have shown holes throughout defence, midfield and attack in recent friendlies. New coach, Jurgen Klinsmann - an icon of the German game and former Nationalelf player and coach - is charged with reviving the side’s flagging fortunes. But his start to life on the US bench has been far from convincing, presiding over just two wins in his first seven games in charge.
With the Americans needing a turnaround in form and psychology, reigning Caribbean champions Jamaica could well prove spoilers. Coached by former international hero Theodore Whitmore, the Reggae Boyz are a side on the up, displaying a new-found discipline to go with their usual athleticism and technique.
While USA and Jamaica have been feasting on friendlies, Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda arrive in the group after six games of competitive action in Round 2. The Guatemalans, led by veteran striker and all-time top scorer Carlos Ruiz, strolled through the previous round, winning all their games against Belize, St. Vincent/Grenadines and Grenada. The Wadadli Boyz, for their part, pulled off one of the shocks of qualifying so far, edging Haiti to first place to put themselves on the football map.
Players to watch
The Americans will be led by their all-time top scorer and playmaker Landon Donovan, who recently inspired Los Angeles Galaxy to another Major League Soccer title. Jozy Altidore will be the man looking to bang home the goals while Everton's Tim Howard minds the net. Jamaica’s Dane Richards, who also plays in Major League Soccer, will be the man to watch for the islanders. His searing pace and keen eye for goal will trouble even the best defences. Guatemala’s Ruiz is the heart and soul of the team, while underdogs Antigua and Barbuda are led by the free-scoring Pete ‘Big Pete’ Byers and the old head of veteran defender George Dublin.
What they’re saying
“We’ve put our tiny country on the map – we have to be the smallest country left in qualifying. I sometimes still can’t believe we did what we did [beating Haiti], and it makes me want more. Why not the next round? Why not wearing an Antigua and Barbuda jersey at the World Cup in Brazil?” Antigua and Barbuda captain George Dublin on the unlikely road ahead for his island country of just under 80,000 people.
Did you know?
- Guatemala have come agonisingly close to qualifying for a FIFA World Cup, missing out in 2006 by just one point.
- Jamaica’s current coach, Whitmore, scored twice for Jamaica as a player in the country’s only ever trip to a world finals, against Japan at France 1998.
- Virtually the entire starting line-up of Antigua and Barbuda play for the country’s only professional club team, Antigua Barracuda, who line up in the USA’s third pro tier. Both teams are coached by Englishman Tom Curtis.
- USA, who went out of South Africa 2010 at the Round of 16, once reached the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup, in 1930, led by iconic figures Billy Gonsalves and Bert Patenaude.
Have your say
If all goes according to plan, USA will finish first in Group A. Will Jamaica or Guatemala sneak into second or, as captain Dublin thinks, does his Antiguan side have a prayer?