Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Five of the six spots in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying remain up for grabs, and that should make for an intense final match-day as teams attempt to avoid falling out of the picture for Brazil 2014.
While most American soccer fans will be too busy seeing how the U.S. Men’s National Team does against Guatemala in Kansas City on Tuesday, arguably the most intriguing match-up will take place in San Pedro Sula, where Honduras hosts Canada in what is essentially a winner-takes-all match in Group C.
Panama is all but sure to take first place in the group, and lock up a berth to the final round of qualifying, against already-eliminated Cuba. Honduras will be in desperate need for a win in order to avert disaster. No other result will see Los Catrachos advance, and while they will have homefield advantage, they are also facing an opponent that can advance with a draw. The Canucks are keen on getting a result on the road in order to reach the Hexagonal for the first time since the 1998 World Cup cycle.
Without key attackers Dwayne De Rosario (injured) and Oliver Occean (suspended), the Canadians will need to be sturdy defensively against the likes of Carlo Costly and Oscar Boniek Garcia in order to at least get a draw. That starts at the back with goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld all the way through to the likely forward tandem of Simeon Jackson and Tosaint Ricketts.
As for Honduras, they will need to push from the opening whistle as Canada is likely to absorb pressure. That kind of game may be well-suited for the hosts, but it also means that being clinical in front of goal will go a long way in determining their fate.
Here is a closer look at the rest of action on the final match-day of the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying:
JAMAICA-ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
Jamaica knows it needs to do one thing and then hope for some help, and that one thing is win big.
The Reggae Boyz host Antigua & Barbuda in the other Group A match and with the latter already out of contention from advancing, the game at Independence Park could be wide open. If that is the case, Jamaica will need to hope that Ryan Johnson, Luton Shelton and Dane Richards can create and finish plenty of chances against an Antigua team that held them scoreless in their previous meeting.
Even doing that is not good enough to secure advancement for the Jamaicans, as a draw between the U.S. and Guatemala at Livestrong Sporting Park would see those two teams move on and eliminate the Reggae Boyz.
El Salvador could not have picked a worse opponent to have a must-win game against.
Needing three points to even have a shot at reaching the Hexagonal, El Salvador has to play a Mexico team that is aiming to finish the semifinal round with a perfect 6-0 record. Making matters worse for La Selecta is that the match will be played in Mexico, where El Tri are notoriously tough to crack. For the underdogs to come out on top in the Group B clash, they will need to hold Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez in check and have big performances from goalkeeper Dagoberto Portillo, captain Dennis Alas and Rodolfo Zelaya.
All of El Salvador’s best efforts can still go for naught, however, so long as Costa Rica gets at least a tie with Guyana, which is already eliminated. Los Ticos crushed Guyana, 4-0, in their first meeting thanks to an Alvaro Saborio hat-trick and that could well be the case again in this Group B encounter at Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose.
What do you think of these matches? Who do you see reaching the Hexagonal? See Canada getting a point in San Pedro Sula?
Share your thoughts below.