Sunday, August 03, 2008

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update (Part 3)

Remember those heady days of June when Euro 2008 was seemingly the main focus of everyone's attention? Well over in North and Central America, Euro 2008 couldn't have been lower on the list of priorities for that was when the CONCACAF nations continued their fight for a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals.

So what was the upshot of all those recent qualifiers? Who's progressing nicely and who's chance for glory has come to an end? Read on and find out…

North and Central America

Twenty-three teams entered the first round of qualifying, among them such overlooked notaries as the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and Anguilla. They were quickly rounded down to twelve after a series of home-and-away matches (excluding St. Vincent & The Grenadines who got a bye) and it was they who progressed to the next round.

Joining the successful dozen in Round 2 were a further twelve teams, all of whom were seeded and included the likes of the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica. It was these 24 teams that took part in the two-legged ties that took place in June. The twelve winners go through to Round 3 which begins on August 20th and they'll be split into three groups of four playing 'round-robin' fashion.

The winners and runners-up will enter Round 4 and those six teams will be drawn to play in a single group, again playing each other home and away 'round-robin'-stylee.

At the end of all that, the top three in the group will qualify for South Africa 2010 while the fourth-placed team enters a play-off with the fifth-placed South American team. Whoever wins that will also go through to the 2010 finals.

Understood? Any questions? Then let us begin…

Most of the big guns that joined the action in Round 2 successfully negotiated their 'David and Goliath' ties against the lesser lights of the region, and some did so with considerable ease.

The USA broke the back of their contest against Barbados in the first leg thanks to an 8-0 win at the Home Depot Center. A pair of goals from Clint Dempsey and Brian Ching along with individual contributions from Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Eddie Johnson and an own goal by Daryl Ferguson ensured the second leg was just a formality. The aggregate score was 9-0 in the end, so the USA team take their place in Third Round Group 1 along with Guatemala who did a similar demolition job on St. Lucia.

Captain Carlos Ruiz (right) was the man who did most of the damage, scoring four of the six Guatemala goals in their first leg shut-out of the islanders. A 3-1 win in the second leg on June 21st signalled the end of St. Lucia's run, but for Suriname, their journey from Round 1 continues thanks to a close-fought 3-1 aggregate win over Guyana.

The Surinamese began their campaign with a 7-1 rout of Montserrat before their tie with neighbours Guyana and they can consider themselves lucky to survive after a 1-0 home win that saw them reduced to ten men late in the game and a 2-1 win in Guyana where the hosts grabbed a late winner to set up a nervy finish.

So Suriname become one of only two Round 1 starters to reach Round 3 (the other being El Salvador who beat Panama 3-2 on aggregate) and both will be in Group 3 along with Haiti (1-0 aggregate winners over Netherlands Antilles) and a not-entirely convincing Costa Rica.

Costa Rica's second round tie against Grenada looked like a formality on paper, especially given that the former is sixty positions higher up the FIFA world rankings than the latter, but Grenada showed they were made of sterner stuff in the first leg. Within 23 minutes, they found themselves 2-0 up against their supposed superiors thanks to a goal each from Patrick Modeste and Jason Roberts.

The Costa Ricans grabbed a goal back just before half time through Armando Alonso, but it wasn't until fourteen minutes from time that an equaliser materialised from Victor Nunez. The game ended 2-2 and Costa Rica were left looking back on a twelfth successive match without a victory.

Luckily for former player and now coach Hernan Medford, Costa Rica's fortunes were to change for the vital second leg as they cruised to a 3-0 victory, but the damage had already been done as Medford was fired from his job just a week later.

In other news there were easy aggregate wins for Sven Goran Eriksson's Mexico (9-0 over Belize), Jamaica (13-0 over the Bahamas), Canada (7-1 over St. Vincent & The Grenadines) and Honduras (6-2 over Puerto Rico), but Trinidad and Tobago only made it through after slipping up in their first game against Bermuda.

Lacking the talents of injured Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones, Trinidad and Tobago looked a shadow of their former-selves and though they equalised John Nusum's seventh minute strike, the all-time top Bermuda striker was to get a second on 38 minutes which effectively won them the game. Once again, however, the second match was to prove decisive as the Soca Warriors grabbed a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Darryl Roberts and Southampton's Stern John.

So Trinidad and Tobago take their place in the next round in a group that will feature the USA, Guatemala and a Cuban side that had problems of their own in overcoming a plucky Antigua and Barbuda team. A Leonel Duarte goal five minutes from time was all that separated the two sides in the first leg which finished 4-3 to Cuba, but that all-important second leg gave the favourites time to regroup once again and the tie ended 8-3 to the Cubans.

And there you have it. We now know the twelve teams remaining that will take part in Round 3 and here's how the groups were drawn out:

Each group appears to have its runaway favourites to finish top - even Costa Rica despite their recent turbulent past. What should be more interesting is who will grab the runner-up places, and for what it's worth we're going for Guatemala in Group 1, Honduras in Group 2 and El Salvador in Group 3.

It won't be clear cut, however, and when the action starts up again on August 20th, you can bet there'll be twelve teams all fighting for their football lives as they look for a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa.


Kartik said...

Good piece, Chris.

Costa Rica was so unconvincing that manager Herman Medford was sacked despite advancing.

Chris O said...

Thanks Kartik - good to hear from you again!

Yes, so I heard. Do you think they may have been hasty in sacking him, given their seemingly easy Third Round group? I'd guess he could have turned the team's fortunes around then, couldn't he?

Duffman said...

Sterling work there guv'nor as always.

I'm intrigued by the fact that Cuba and the USA are in the same group. After listening to the World Football Phone In podcast (a must) I understand that US fans will find it very difficult to travel to Cuba for the away leg. Which then leads me to wonder how many Cuban emigres will turn up at the Home Depot Centre (assuming its there) if any.

P Shaw said...

Have Trinidad & Tobago moved qualifying groups like Australia have now. If so why and when did it happen Chris O?

Chris O said...

Hi Duffman... It's certainly a contentious issue but I guess FIFA had no contingency plan to roll out in case the States and Cuba ended up playing each other. Two more partizan crowds you'll be hard pushed to find when they play each other home and away...

Hi P... To my knowledge, T&T have always been in the North and Central American (CONCACAF) region where World Cup qualifiers are concerned. Do you feel they may have once been affiliated elsewhere?

Kartik said...

Yes Chris, the Costa Rican federation panicked in sacking Medford. Considering the age of many of the top Ticos stars it's unrealistic to expect outstanding results. In my opinion Honduras and Guatemala have both passed up Costa Rica as the top Central American side.

T&T has always been in CONCACAF to my knowledge. In fact the US played them in Port of Spain in 1989, the most famous qualifier in US history.

P Shaw said...

Hi Chris O my mistake I could have sworn I saw T&T qualify for 2006 in South America but I was wrong. They were in Central America. Thanks Chris O.


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