Although only two rounds of games have been played in the third qualifying phase in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone, four sides are already staring elimination in the face. Defeat for Cuba, Haiti, Suriname and Canada in their respective engagements on Wednesday would leave them needing miracles to stay in the hunt for places at South Africa 2010. FIFA.com assesses their chances of doing just that as it previews the week's six games in the CONCACAF region.
The big game
*Mexico-Canada, Wednesday 10 September, Estadio Victor Manuel Reyna, Tuxtla Gutierrez 20.00 (local time).
*While the hosts look clear favourites to bank another three points, there is more to this encounter than meets the eye. With only a draw to show for their efforts so far, the Maple Leafs have no option but to try and get something out of what looks to be a daunting trip.
The fact the match is being held in the southern city of Tuxtla Gutierrez rather than at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca fortress should come as a relief to the Canadians. Even so, the hosts, who are going in search of their third straight win, can still count on some fervent support in that part of the country.
While Tricolor coach Sven Goran Eriksson will have to make do without the injured Pavel Pardo and Carlos Salcido, the in-form trio of Andres Guardado, Jonny Magallon and Fernando Arce are all available. The Swede's only tactical quandary is whether to continue with the youthful pairing of Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela up front or hand the striking duties to the seasoned duo of Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Matias Vuoso.
Canada are not the only team whose qualification hopes are hanging by a thread. Trailing some way off the pace in Group 1, Guatemala and Cuba go into their meeting knowing that defeat could be terminal. The Chapines secured a notable point away to Trinidad and Tobago, while their Cuban visitors are still reeling from back-to-back defeats to T&T and USA.
The top two in the section meet in Bridgeview, and after opening up with a brace of workmanlike away wins, the Americans are widely expected to maintain their 100 per cent record against a T&T side who have collected four points out of a possible six to date. A surprise away triumph for the islanders, however, will see them leap into first place.
Mexico's clash with Canada is not the only vital match in Group 2. Honduras host Jamaica in San Pedro Sula and after their stunning win in Canada, the Catrachos suddenly find themselves in a position of strength. Another successful outing now will leave them well-placed for a ticket to the final six-team group.
The picture looks a good deal clearer in Group 3. After thumping victories at the weekend, Costa Rica and El Salvador make respective trips to Haiti and Suriname in the knowledge that further wins will all but see them through to the final phase.
Player to watch: Rodolfo Zelaya (SLV)The versatile striker, who runs out for Alianza in the Salvadoran league, was a virtual unknown until recently. It was only last season that he was playing for minnows Chalatenango and making his international debut against China. Following his hat-trick in the 5-0 defeat of Haiti at the weekend, however, Zelaya has shot to the top of the goalscoring charts in the third group stage and will have every chance of adding to that tally in Wednesday's visit to Suriname.
The stat 2 - The number of goals USA have scored in their two groups games to date and the number of wins they have registered. Impregnable at the back and reluctant to lose possession in the midfield, Bob Bradley's side have been supremely effective so far.
What they said
"We can't afford to lose against Honduras. They're on home turf so they're the favourites, but we're only thinking about winning. I think it will be a great game and I'm very confident we can come away with a good result." Jamaica coach Rene Simoes. *
*Play and win!
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