The top teams in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone started down the road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ this weekend. And while most contests went according to the script or thereabouts, there were a few shocks, most notably Trinidad and Tobago's 2-1 loss to rank outsiders Bermuda on home soil.
Of the eight Round 2 first leg matches played on Sunday, T&T's defeat was by far the most surprising. Without injured Sunderland hit-man Kenwyne Jones, new boss Francisco Maturana's Soca Warriors looked out of sorts from the start, and they found themselves a goal down after only eight minutes thanks to the predatory instincts of journeyman striker John Barry Nusum.
After wasting a host of chances, the home side clawed their way back after 22 minutes through all-time top scorer Stern John, but Nusum silenced the Marvin Lee Stadium crowd in Macoya for good when his second goal, five minutes from the interval, sealed a historic win for the Bermudans.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. I'm extremely proud of everyone involved," commented Bermuda boss Kenny Thompson, who has described the current generation of Bermudan players as "one of the best in the country's history."
The USA had a far easier time of it in their game in Los Angeles, beating Barbados 8-0 in the rout of the round. Clint Dempsey opened the scoring inside the first minute, and finished with two goals. Brian Ching scored three for the strolling Americans, and Landon Donovan (playing in his 101st international), Michael Bradley and Eddie Johnson all grabbed goals of their own. It was the USA's largest-ever margin of victory, surpassing an 8-1 friendly win in 1993 over the Cayman Islands.
"It's good to get the whole thing underway," said USA coach Bob Bradley. "We started strong and kept it going. I would call that a definite success."
The Americans' arch-rivals Mexico also won, but had a far tougher time against an inspired Belize in Houston, Texas. Arsenal-bound Carlos Vela opened the scoring in the 65th minute before veteran substitute Jared Borgetti sealed a nervy 2-0 win with a penalty in stoppage time. "I said before the match, you can't underestimate Belize. They defended well and gave us a very tough game," said Santos Laguna midfielder Fernando Arce. "We'll need to do better in the second leg."
Canada entered the qualifying race with a simple 3-0 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines on the road. Ali Gerba, who came on as a sub in the seventh minute for the injured Rob Friend, scored twice after Issey Nakajima-Farran opened the scoring.
Elsewhere on Sunday, the Netherlands Antilles kept their hopes of reaching the group stages alive with a creditable 0-0 draw against reigning Caribbean champions Haiti in Port au Prince.
Panama entered the qualifying race with a simple, but hardly emphatic, 1-0 home win over El Salvador, who were so impressive in the first round of qualifying. "I am relaxed and satisfied since we still have another 90 minutes to play, and we are a very good team at home," said Salvadorean coach Carlos de los Cobos, while Panama boss Alexandre Guimaraes was pleased with the result. "We did what we came to do," said the Brazilian-born Costa Rican.
Jamaica rounded out Sunday's action with a huge win, 7-0 over the Bahamas. Luton Shelton scored twice while Ricardo Gardner, Demar Phillips, Marlon King, Andrew Williams and Omar Daley grabbed a goal apiece.
*Saturday surprises * Honduras booked their passage through to the group stage with a 2-2 draw against Puerto Rico in San Juan. Although the result was a surprise, the 4-0 edge they had from the first leg last week made the aggregate a fairly bloated 6-2. Puerto Rico, though soundly beaten, showed signs of tremendous improvement.
Costa Rica needed a comeback and even then could only manage a 2-2 draw with Grenada. Patrick Modeste opened the scoring 20 minutes in and Blackburn Rovers ace Jason Roberts made it a two-goal lead seven minutes later before Armando Alonso cut the deficit in the 42nd minute and Junior Diaz equalised, much to the relief of the visitors, in the 75th.
"We weren't as bad as the score suggests," said Costa Rica coach Hernan Medford after the game. "We do need to improve for the second leg."
Suriname pulled off a minor shock of their own by beating neighbours Guyana 1-0 in Paramaribo. The Guyanese were one of the 12 seeded teams in the region, but looked a shadow of themselves in their first qualifier.
Domestic-based Clifton Sandvliet, playing in his 67th game for Suriname, popped up unmarked in the 53rd minute to grab the only goal of the contest and keep up the team's form after eliminating Montserrat 7-1 over two legs in the last round.
Saturday's last match saw Guatemala give tiny St. Lucia a lesson in finishing, winning 6-0. LA Galaxy striker Carlos 'El Pescadito' Ruiz grabbed himself no less than four goals after Freddy Garcia opened the scoring in the sixth minute. Abner Trigueros notched the other goal for the Chapines, who look in good shape heading into their second leg on the island.
One first leg encounter remains as Cuba travel to Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday. The all-important return legs take place between 18 and 22 June.