Sunday, August 31, 2008

World Cup 2010 Update: CONCACAF

A quick update now on last week's World Cup 2010 qualifiers in the North and Central American (CONCACAF) section. It's the third round of four and the twelve remaining teams are split into three groups of four, the winners and runners-up going through to the final round.

So what's to report? Well each of the clear favourites from all three groups came through their opening games with a win, but none of them had an easy time of it.

n Group A, USA faced an aggressive Guatemala team who tried to disrupt their opponent's play with a physical approach that bordered on brutal at times, and it may have been this that caused many of the US players to show poor passing and control. Consistency-wise, they lacked a certain something and many of the players had a poor game, but after 70 minutes of a match that had seen seven yellow cards and two reds, the USA finally broke through with what turned out to be a winning goal.

DaMarcus Beasley, on as a substitute for Eddie Lewis, took a perfect corner that allowed captain Carlos Bocanegra to head home, thereafter allowing the visiting side to shut up shop and hold out for a vital three points. It was the first time the American team had beaten the Guatemalans in their own country since 1988 and with the hosts currently at the peak of their abilities, they'll be glad to have survived a potentially treacherous encounter.

Elsewhere in Group A, Trinidad and Tobago swept aside an inferior Cuba side 3-1 in Havana. Midfielder Daniel Keon, who plays his club football for United Petrotrin, scored a goal in each half and with Cornell Glen adding a third after 69 minutes, the Soca Warriors were home and dry well before Jeniel Marquez pulled one back for the Cubans five minutes from the end.

That scoreline means T&T lead the group after one game with the USA second, but all eyes will be on the following round of fixtures taking place next Saturday. That's where we'll get to see the Americans playing in Cuba for the first time since 1947 while Trinidad and Tobago play their first home game of the round against Guatemala.

Can the USA improve on their last performance and live up to their billing as strong favourites against Cuba, and can T&T deal with the brusque approach of the Guatemalans? Watch this space to find out...

Group B now, and Mexico continued their march towards the Finals in South Africa with a 2-1 victory over a tricky Honduran side. It was Honduras who took the lead when Julio Cesar de Leon's free kick thundered in off the crossbar and Mexico had no reply going into the half time break.

Mexico, trying to avoid only their second ever defeat at the Azteca Stadium, came out with all guns blazing in the second half, but an equaliser didn't arrive until the 73rd minute. Stuttgart's Pavel Pardo converted a long-range effort to bring the Mexicans right back into the game on Sven Goran Eriksson's managerial debut for El Tri, and it wasn't long before a second arrived too.

Just two minutes later, Pardo took a free kick not far from the Honduran goal which flew over everyone's head and beyond the stranded keeper Valladares. The Mexicans finally had their lead and Honduras had nothing left to offer. A close run thing for Eriksson's men, and they'll be looking to improve in their next game against Jamaica next weekend.

The other game in the group saw Canada get off to a great start against the Jamaicans thanks to a goal early in the second half for Julian de Guzman. However just five minutes later, Canadian goalkeeper Pat Onstad allowed a corner kick to slip through his fingers and that was the end of the goalscoring in Toronto. A 1-1 draw means a solid start for both teams, but you already get the impression we've seen the bottom two for Group B here.

Finally to Group C and Costa Rica only narrowly squeaked through their game with El Salvador 1-0 thanks to a 48th minute penalty scored by FC Sion's Alvaro Saborio. That should have set the Costa Ricans on course for a comfortable win but Saborio was then sent off towards the end of the match to give El Salvador a slight hope of gaining an equaliser. Sadly it never arrived and Costa Rica can now breathe a sigh of relief as they look forward to the visit of lowly Suriname next weekend.

Suriname, the rank outsiders of all the remaining twelve teams in the CONCACAF section applied themselves well in their match away to Haiti and even went 2-0 up thanks to a brace from Wensley Christoph. Were it not for some better goalkeeping by his team-mate Ronny Aloema, they may even have won the game, for it was his poor handling that allowed a Brunel Fucien shot to crawl over the line four minutes into added time at the end of the game.

It was this goal that tied the game at 2-2 after Frantz Bertin had pulled one back for Haiti in the 90th minute, all of which must have left the Surinamese frustrated at coming so close to getting their first win of the campaign. As it is, Suriname travel next to Costa Rica where their hosts will no doubt be certain not to underestimate them, while Haiti go to El Salvador in the hope of equalling or bettering their 1-0 win in a San Salvador friendly last year.

More news from CONCACAF next week.

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