USA, Mexico and Costa Rica are in a three-way tangle at the top of the Brazil 2014 qualifying Hexagonal in CONCACAF heading into Tuesday’s all-important matchday. The Mexicans, who have played a game more than their main rivals and still haven’t caught fire, return to their Estadio Azteca to host the Costa Ricans, while Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA also head home for a date with much-improved Panama in Seattle. The third game of the day pits Honduras, at home in Tegucigalpa, against a Jamaican side in desperate need of goals, points and something, generally, to smile about.
The big game
CONCACAF champions and consistent FIFA World Cup qualifiers Mexico have been short of convincing in their five qualifiers to date. Four draws and one win is enough for a share of top spot, but it’s not exactly turning on the El Tri fans, who are used to dominance on the regional stage. Coach José Manuel Chepo de la Torre must be considered officially under pressure when he returns to the Azteca to face fellow leaders Costa Rica. Despite the presence of attacking livewires like Andres Guardado, Javier Chicharito Hernandez and Gio dos Santos, Chepo’s men have yet to find consistent form, and the fans in Mexico City will demand an improved showing. “We’ve been working hard to get better results, but we’re still missing something,” was the assessment of veteran midfielder Carlos Salcido after the side were held to another goalless draw in Panama on Friday.
Costa Rica, for their part, will be in confident mood, coming off a hard-earned 1-0 win over Central American neighbours Honduras at home. Roy Miller, of MLS outfit New York Red Bulls, was the unlikely goal hero for the Ticos, who will hope to get more attacking output from the likes of target-man Alvaro Saborio. Bryan Ruiz is wearing the captain’s armband for Jorge Luis Pinto’s men and settling in well to the role of playmaker for his country after a stop-start season with English club Fulham. So far, Costa Rica have only been able to win one of their seven points on the road – from a goalless draw in Panama – so a win at Azteca is decidedly unlikely. “We have a team with some good qualities, and a strong defence, so we’ll have to see what happens in Mexico,” said Pinto, choosing to remain cagey on the subject.
Other action USA, the other member of the leading trio, return home to face Panama in the rainy Pacific Northwest. The Panamanians were top of the Hexagonal before they drew Mexico Friday and are looking a far superior side to recent years. The Americans, however, are rebounding from a slow start in the group and Jozy Altidore’s return to scoring form will have Klinsmann smiling from ear to ear. Partnering well with Clint Dempsey in attack, Altidore wants more goals in Seattle against a Canaleros’ side missing main attacking threat Blas Perez, who has come down with a case of gastroenteritis.
“We can loosen up a little bit when we’re playing at home,” Altidore told FIFA.com. “We’ll play with a little more freedom and look to get forward.”
There’s been precious little sunshine in the Jamaica camp since their opening-day draw at the Azteca against Mexico. In five games, they have scored just one goal. They’ve lost twice at home and have amassed only two points for their troubles. They are mired in last place ahead of a trip to Tegucigalpa, a venue where Honduras – in desperate need of points to haul themselves off fifth place – rarely lose. “We just need to focus, stay positive and hope for the best,” said Reggae Boyz coach Theodore Whitmore, a sentiment shared by his USA-based striker Ryan Johnson, who has yet to find the net. “I expect to win games like Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. We win those games, it's suddenly a different story.”
What they’re saying
“Every game is difficult in CONCACAF. Panama will be a very difficult game in Seattle. We'll need big support from the fans and total commitment from the players in every one of these games. I think our team is good enough and has enough quality to qualify for the World Cup but we have to be ready for the battle, ready for different circumstances and places.” USA coach Klinsmann looks ahead to a home clash with Panama after his side left it late to grab all three points in Jamaica.
The number 1 – Mexico have lost several times at their Azteca, but only once in World Cup qualifying. In total, they have won nearly 40 times in qualifying at the massive ground that teeters over 7000 feet up in the smog of Mexico City, drawing three and losing only one. That historic defeat, on 16 June 2001, came at the hands of Costa Rica, the very same team that comes calling on Tuesday.
CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 5*11 June
Have your say**
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