CONCACAF qualifying for South Africa 2010 began at the weekend with the Caymans' shock draw on the road in Bermuda, and the six fixtures on Wednesday kept the excitement levels going in the New World.
The two early games saw a hopeful St. Kitts and Nevis get a lesson in efficiency from Belize, while the Netherlands Antilles pulled off an upset on the road.
St. Kitts, led by full-blooded Chivas USA striker Atiba Harris, dominated possession early on in Guatemala City against Belize. The practical-minded Central Americans, though, scored three goals from four shots as the first half wore on to put the contest beyond doubt. Dean McCauley grabbed a brace for the Belizeans in the straight-forward 3-1 win in which a scrambled goal from Gerard Williams proved the lone bright spot for the islanders.
The Netherlands Antilles flew the Caribbean flag with considerably more pride on the evening when, led by a clutch of players with experience in professional Dutch football, they hung on to a 15th-minute goal from Anton Jongsma of FC Zwolle to win out 1-0. The Nicaraguans, playing at home and with the benefit of a recent training trip to Brazil, now have their backs against the wall ahead of the return leg in Willemstad.
Tiny Dominica earned themselves an important point as they drew 1-1 at home against a heavily favoured Barbados side who were unable, finally, to secure the services of English Premiership stars Marlon Harewood and Emerson Boyce. Richard Pacquette began the scoring for the hosts after 20 minutes and Rashida Williams drew level for the Bajan Braves three minutes before the half.
Perhaps even more impressive was Turks and Caicos' win over St. Lucia. With goals from talismanic MLS striker Gavin Glinton and David Lawrie, the 2-1 win was the first ever victory for TCI on home soil. In fact, it was their first-ever game on home soil and the 2000-plus fans who turned out for the big night celebrated long and hard.
Antigua and Barbuda made light work of Aruba 3-0 on the road in Oranjestad. George Dublin and Gayson Gregory, two of only three professionals in the side, claimed a goal each with the third coming by way of an unfortunate Daryl Siera own goal.
In the night's one true hiding, former CONCACAF giants El Salvador took a step toward renewing their past glories with a 12-0 whipping of outgunned Anguilla. Rudi Coralles scored five goals to move to the top of the region's scoring charts while aging ace Ronald Cerritos grabbed a hat-trick in what should effectively put an end to Anguilla's dream of reaching the next stage.
The one remaining first leg will pit the Bahamas against British Virgin Islands on 26 March, with the second leg just four days later.
The remainder of the second legs will also be played in late March, along with three one-off contests. Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands-Grenada and Surinam-Montserrat will all be played near the end of March with everything on the line.
The eleven winners from North, Central America and the Caribbean's first round will join St. Vincent and the Grenadines in another batch of home-away series against the twelve top-ranked teams in the region including the USA, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica.