USA and Costa Rica are back in action on Tuesday, with both sides aiming to put further distance between themselves and foundering Mexico in the CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The Stars and Stripes, who lead the section, take on Honduras near Salt Lake City in Utah, while Los Ticos host Panama, who have begun to take on water after a hot start.
The meeting between USA and Honduras will have special meaning for Jurgen Klinsmann. The German was heavily criticised after his Americans lost their Hexagonal opener to Los Catrachos back in February, but they have since rebounded in style. Last week’s 2-0 win over Panama was USA’s best performance so far. From Tim Howard in goal, through a gritty midfield, marshalled by Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, the States are very much on the rise. And in Jozy Altidore, who’s scored three times in his last three games, they now have a consistent scorer to partner Clint Dempsey.
“In first place and having another home game, we’re in a very good position, but you’re only as good as the next game,” said Klinsmann, a long way from the opening-day defeat that sparked a media backlash. “It’s really important that we prove the point against Honduras and get those three points.”
The Hondurans, for their part, will be bolstered by a 2-0 victory of their own over bottom side Jamaica in their last outing. But the Central Americans, currently with a tenuous grip on fourth place, struggle away from home, picking up no points on their travels thus far. They also face a nervous wait on the fitness of Oscar Boniek Garcia. The Houston Dynamo workhorse scored the opener against Jamaica before he was stretchered off with a muscle injury, but he is still expected to join fellow injury doubt Emilio Izaguirre in the starting XI on Tuesday.
The other game in the section sees Costa Rica return home to take on Panama in San Jose. Los Ticos put in a gritty performance against Mexico last time out, their organised rearguard leading the way to a 0-0 draw at the fabled Estadio Azteca. The Central American giants, and three-time FIFA World Cup participants, are deadly at home, amassing six of their eight points at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose. Led by the sturdiest backline in all of CONCACAF at the moment – they’ve not conceded in their last three outings – the silky playmaking of captain Brian Ruiz, and the goal-getting potential of young ace Joel Campbell, the Costa Ricans will expect nothing less than a win.
It wasn’t long ago that Panama, who have never reached a FIFA World Cup, were on top of the six-team qualifying group. But the Hexagonal is a marathon and not a sprint, as any coach will eagerly remind you. Away from their fortress of the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Julio Dely Valdes’s men will have to put their recent loss to USA, as well as their lowly status of fifth, behind them.
What they’re saying
Emilio Izaguirre of Honduras: “There's nothing left to calculate. We have five games to go and we need to take as many points as possible. Our opponents will give everything to beat us, so it's up to us to produce that extra amount from here on out.”
6 – So far, USA and Costa Rica have taken maximum points at home – six each from two games. There’s an old saying, 'home is where the heart is', but in CONCACAF home is where the points are. Only Jamaica, in dead last, have lost games at home (two). “Win at home and try to grab something extra on the road,” is how USA midfielder Bradley described his side’s philosophy. It works too, as the Americans are top of the group by winning both games in front of their own fans, and grabbing extra points from a win over Jamaica in Kingston and a draw in Mexico. Second-placed Costa Rica have followed a similar path, winning both of their home games and picking up two extra points with draws in Panama and Mexico.
Matchday 6 Fixtures
Have your say
Can Honduras or Panama cause an upset in the USA and Costa Rica respectively, or will the favourites prevail?