World Cup 2014: Semifinal Round, Matchday 2 Review

Posted on June 14, 2012 7:40 pm

Before we look back at what information can be gleaned from Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying matches in our region, I should address the lack of a preview article for the same. As it turns out, consuming fried food prepared by a street vendor in another country can be a risky proposition: sometimes it pays off (for instance, trying picarones in Peru paid off handsomely) and sometimes you end up with a stomach intoxication. On the other hand, a friend in the area lent me her USB key with wireless internet, allowing me to catch three of the games from Matchday 2 (…including Guatemala-USA? Wouldn’t you like to know…).

My colleagues Jagou and Loney have already addressed the US and Mexico’s trips to Central America. For Jurgen Klinsmann’s side, I would simply add that only a full six points from the September home-and-away matches with Jamaica will allow the US to ease into the Hex. Assuming that Guatemala earn maximum points from Antigua and Barbuda, anything less than two straight victories over the Reggae Boyz will leave the US no margin for error when they travel to the Sir Vivian Richards cricket grounds in October, given that both Jamaica and Guatemala will be breathing down their necks.

As for Mexico’s fortuitous victory in El Salvador (referring only to the nature of Hector Moreno’s match winner), Jagou and I will have to agree to disagree on the significance of the lost points for Osael Romero and co. It is true that they find themselves three points behind Costa Rica, who took care of business by walloping Guyana 4-0 in Georgetown (featuring a hat-trick by the much-maligned Alvaro Saborio). But the cuscatlecos will get their own shots at the Golden Jaguars in September, while the Costa Ricans will stare down CONCACAF’s finest in a two game series that ostensibly offers little in terms of available points. Here is the gamble: if El Salvador gain six points from Guyana and Costa Rica fail to earn at least three from Mexico (mind you, the ticos have not beaten Mexico at home since 1992), then the Salvadorans will be ahead on points. Defeat Costa Rica in the Cuscatlan, then, and Ruben Israel’s side will guarantee themselves a spot in the Hex. I gave up betting money on sports some time ago; but if I had some riding on my earlier predictions, Tuesday’s setback would hardly have me breaking a sweat.

Fortunately for Panama, a harder-than-expected 1-0 victory over Cuba came courtesy of a brilliant goal by Nelson “Ruso” Barahona (inspiring the brilliant headline “Russian screws over Cuba”), allowing the canaleros to avoid similar vexing. While their bountiful June harvest has them sitting on top of Group C, I decided to give this week’s honors to a fellow Central American side that did just enough to stave off a complete drought.

TEAM OF THE ROUND

Honduras

Without question, the current edition of the catrachos is a far cry from the one that managed to qualify for the last World Cup. Their attack appears downright rudderless, only capable of producing two or three opportunities per game; and apparently, kickin’ it with weekend warriors in Miami has taken its toll on Carlos Costly’s form (his decision to pass on staying with the Houston Dynamo appears more and more baffling by the day). And had David Edgar and Kevin McKenna been more accurate with their headers, Canada could have easily won the highly-anticipated showdown at BMO Field.

But after wasting away their home match against Panama, Luis Suarez’s side dug in, kept Dwayne de Rosario in check and held on for a 0-0 draw in the Great White North. They primarily have central defender Maynor Figueroa to thank for the accomplishment: on a couple of occasions, his timely tackling single-handedly prevented goalkeeper Noel Valladares from having to face one-on-one scenarios.

Whether Suarez decides to keep faith in old hands (Costly and David Suazo) or place his trust in the new generation (e.g. Jerry Bengtson and Roger Rojas), Honduras will need to regenerate their front line ahead of their matches against a Cuban side that has proven itself closer to the competitive 2010 vintage than the 2011 disaster. What the six points on offer represents for them has changed significantly, thanks to the seemingly lackluster result in Toronto. Had the hosts managed to win the game, Honduras would be sitting on 0 points, to six for both Panama and Canada; and unless one or the other won both games in their series, both would remain above Honduras heading into the final set of fixtures. Canada coughing up two points at home, however, opens up the following possibility: if Honduras win both games in September, they will end up either even or ahead of Canada. After that, even if the Reds win against Cuba and Honduras fall in Panama City, they would be able to get the necessary victory (plus make up the goal differential, if necessary) against the North Americans in the comfortable surroundings of San Pedro Sula. Of course, this is assuming the Canadians do not extract four or more points out of Panama; otherwise, the Hondurans will have to hunt down their fellow Central Americans to move on. And if they drop even one point to Cuba…

The prospect of slipping up against the expected also-rans (Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana and Cuba) has become a more realistic fear for the teams harboring hopes of advancing to the next round, after all three punched above their weight in their first two matches (had a first-half Guyanese shot that bounced off the crossbar and the line gone in, as the saying in Spanish goes, another rooster would have sang). However, up to now, only one team has actually gotten stuck in a Caribbean pothole.

GOAT OF THE ROUND

Jamaica

The reigning Caribbean Cup champions flew over to St. John’s for a match that not only presented the opportunity to top the group (in retrospect) but represented a multilayered showdown between the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Consider the contrast between 2008 and 2012: four years ago, Jamaica barely missed out on qualifying for the Hex; the Reggae Boyz made up for that disappointment by winning the Caribbean Cup on home soil; local club Harbour View qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League; and from an administrative standpoint, “Captain” Horace Burrell only answered to Jack Warner in the Caribbean Football Union hierarchy. Now, while the Jamaicans remain the class of the Caribbean at national-team level, this year’s Caribbean Cup will be held in Antigua and Barbuda; Antigua Barracuda are only one match away from reaching the CCL, while not one Jamaican club entered the qualifying tournament; and after Burrell excused himself from consideration for the CFU Presidency, Antiguan Gordon Derrick won the subsequent elections.

There did remain the chasm in experience on the field; while Antigua and Barbuda coach Tom Curtis essentially added a couple of England-based players to the Antigua Barracuda squad, his Jamaican counterpart Theodore Whitmore could count on a collection of Premier League and Major League Soccer veterans, the same team that swept all before them en route to the last two Caribbean titles. Nevertheless, the visitors came out surprisingly flat, unable to seriously examine A&B’s keeper; and had Peter “Big Pete” Byers converted the golden opportunity that fell to him in the middle of the first half, Jamaica could well have been forced to return home empty-handed. As it is, unless they finally achieve their first-ever win against the US in September, they will likely have to play catch-up with Guatemala in the last two fixtures, including a less-than-palatable trip to the Estadio Mateo Flores. Ricardo Fuller and co. will just have to hope that the chapines similarly find Antigua and Barbuda a tough nut to crack.

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