CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying - Second Round Preview (Part 1)
|I've already looked at USA vs Barbados. But what about the other matchups, which will all receive virtually no coverage here in America? Usually, this is the type of article that Peter Goldstein of Planet World Cup writes so well, but he seems to have gone MIA so I'll give it a shot. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.|
(all times Eastern)
Guatemala - Saint Lucia
6/14-Guatemala vs. St. Lucia - Guatemala City - 10 p.m.
6/21-St. Lucia vs. Guatemala - Vieux Fort - 4 p.m.
The 2006 cycle saw Guatemala get ever so close to the FIFA World Cup in Germany; only a late collapse allowed Trinidad to overtake them for fourth place and a spot in the playoffs. Afterwards, they hired 2002 Ecuador coach Hernan Dario Gomez. However, just recently he resigned and said that he hadn't made any progress with the team. I wouldn't say that's entirely true: Guatemala actually won a game in the Gold Cup last year for the first time in 16 matches, and in the process advancing past the opening round for the first time since 1996.
Now, "Los Chapines" head into qualifying being coached by the same man who almost got them there four years ago: Ramon Maradiaga. They are still led on the field by Los Angeles Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz, and feature many names familiar to MLS fans: Gustavo Cabrera, Pando Ramirez, Mario Rodriguez, and Willie Sims. Forward Dwight Pezzarossi, who formerly played in Spain, is always a threat as well. Warmup friendly results haven't been too great: losses to Panama and Chile, and a draw with El Salvador. Total goals scored: 0 in 3 matches.
Scoring goals shouldn't be a problem against the St. Lucians, even if Ruiz isn't 100 percent. FIFA has a nice writeup on their team here. Shervon Jack, a "back" who plays for Joe Public in Trinidad, looks like their top player. STL only got past Turks & Caicos 3-2 on aggregate, finally putting the tie away with an 85th minute goal in the second match.
This article provides some info on the team's preparations, as well as the amusing fact that their Public Relations Officer is nicknamed Midget. Seems like they're having trouble even funding their campaign, and on the field, their last match was a 6-1 defeat at Antigua. Four years ago, they lost 7-0 on aggregate to Panama. A similar result this time around seems almost certain.
Trinidad & Tobago - Bermuda
6/15-Trinidad & Tobago vs. Bermuda - Port of Spain - 4 p.m.
6/22-Bermuda vs. Trinidad & Tobago - Prospect - 7:30 p.m.
Bermuda is coming off two straight victories over Barbados, though they struggled in the first round drawing with the Caymans at home before winning away. They actually have done well in qualifying before, getting to the final 8 in 1994 where they went undefeated at home versus El Salvador, Jamaica, and Canada.
While they no longer feature Shaun Goater, they do have New England's Khano Smith as well as 17 year old Ipswich property Reggie Lambe. Looks like Smith will start up top with USL veteran John Barry Nusum. Most of the team plays for the USL-2's Bermuda Hogges, which was founded (by Goater and others) to help improve the national team. But they've struggled to win matches, finishing dead last in their inaugural year and are only 2-4 so far this season.
Last time, they gave El Salvador all they could handle (3-4 over two legs). They were one of the better sides in the bottom pot, so this is a bit of an unfortunate draw for them. Still, it seems like the close call of last time will be hard to replicate.
Now that Trinidad's off the field problems over World Cup money are over, they can hopefully focus solely on the soccer. No more Dwight Yorke or Russell Latapy, but 19 year old midfielder Khaleem Hyland is one to watch for the Soca Warriors. He started against England and was previously linked with Celtic and Portsmouth. Stern John has continued his steady play and should be the main source of goals. Unfortunately, young star Kenwyne Jones will miss out due to an injury. They are led by Colombian coach Francisco Maturana, who has coached many national and club teams in Spain, Colombia, and elsewhere.
Trinidad is producing a lot of young talent, but they are missing several star players from last time. Let's not forget that they were very lucky to qualify, drawing (supposedly) St. Kitts and St. Vincent in the semifinal round. The other four teams they could've got instead were Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama. It then took an amazing comeback under mid-hex coaching change Leo Beenhakker (now coaching Poland). It would be an upset if they could manage to get to a second successive World Cup, but thrashing Bermuda should get them off to a good start. If you want to read up on T&T, check out the great site www.socawarriors.net.
Cuba - Antigua & Barbuda
6/17-Antigua & Barbuda vs. Cuba - St. John's - 7 p.m.
6/22-Cuba vs. Antigua & Barbuda - Havana - 8 p.m.
It's tough being a coach in the lower regions of CONCACAF. You have to deal with issues like putting together a squad, finding proper training facilities, or having your starting goalkeeper injure his eye with a weed-whacker at his full time job as a gardener. Such is the life for Antigua coach Willie Donachie, as described in the link. On the bright side, as mentioned above they defeated St. Lucia 6-1 in a recent friendly and have secured the services of a few England based players (defender Marc Joseph of Rotherham and midfielder Justin Cochrane of Millwall). Both players started in a 2-0 friendly win over Ipswich Town, where coach Donachie was an assistant manager before his current job. They've just spent two weeks training over there, and it seems that he's only doing good things with this team.
Cuba presents a tough challenge. They finally got a bit of love from the seeding process, so this time the semifinals are a real possibility. They gave it their all at this stage four years ago, losing on away goals to Costa Rica and costing Steve Sampson his job. Obviously they won't have the services of Maykel Galindo or anyone else who defected, including long time scoring threat Lester More (who now plays for the Charleston Battery).
They looked very competitive in the 2007 Gold Cup, taking the lead against Mexico and drawing with Panama. Forward Reynier Alcántara scored in both of those games and is probably the big name to watch. Midfielder Jaime Colome looks to be another key player for them. German Reinhold Fanz will lead them into qualifying; he has Bundesliga coaching experience and is working for free, actually being loaned by a German club. They defeated St. Vincent 1-0 at home in their only warmup friendly last week.
Should be a good matchup, one of the most competitive on paper. Antigua looks to be improved and are hosting the first leg at home, while Cuba are one of the weakest seeded teams. I still expect Cuba to win, but this is one of the biggest chances for an upset in this round.
Mexico - Belize
6/15-Belize vs. Mexico - Houston, USA - 6:30 p.m.
6/21-Mexico vs. Belize - Monterrey - 12 a.m.
Belize upset Saint Kitts & Nevis to make it this far, though they've already given up on beating Mexico. They've decided to host their "home" game in Houston to make money. Now true, they did play St. Kitts in Guatemala due to lack of facilities, but the southern US is a second home for Mexico. This is a lot like when small teams in the FA Cup draw Man Utd or Arsenal. They're always excited due to the windfall involved. Belize is going to make the most of this opportunity, since they have little chance on the field.
Captain Shane Moody-Orio is probably the team's best player; he starts for Puntarenas in Costa Rica. According to FIFA (who BTW has excellent coverage of all these teams), they only have two other full time professional players. Anything less than a double digit aggregate score would probably be a victory for them. They only lost 2-0 to Honduras last month.
Mexico, on the other hand, haven't even required their new coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to take the job until after this series. U-17 champion coach Jesus Ramirez is controlling the team on an interim basis. They've called in all the big names, and will be using the same players who lost 1-4 to Argentina but rebounded to defeat Peru 4-0. Should be an interesting series for oh, about 10 minutes.
Jamaica - Bahamas
6/15-Jamaica vs. Bahamas - Kingston - 9 p.m.
6/18-Bahamas vs. Jamaica - Trelawny, JAM - 7 p.m.
Brazilian coach Rene Simoes, who led Jamaica to their only World Cup appearance in 1998, is back at the helm. Details on the Jamaican squad and tactics can be read at this link, a great article from the Jamaica Gleaner. MLSers Tyrone Marshall and Andy Williams will once again don the green, yellow, and black of their national team. Dane Richards will certainly have a place eventually, though maybe not now due to his recent injury.
Jamaica has not been playing great, losing their last match to Grenada. With the right opponent, the Reggae Boyz could be ripe for an early upset. The Bahamas are not that opponent, and are easily the weakest team left in CONCACAF. They barely managed to get by the British Virgin Islands on away goals after two draws, and last time lost to Dominica. Not only that, but both legs will be played in Jamaica due to the lack of facilities in the Bahamas. Outside of the USA and Mexico series, this is the biggest mismatch.