Honduras, Costa Rica fight to stay in race
Honduras and Costa Rica, two of the CONCACAF region's most accomplished teams, meet on Wednesday in a World Cup qualifier which will leave the losers out of the race for a place in the 2006 finals Germany.
Jamaica also face a huge task, needing at least a point and more likely a win away to the United States to make the final stage of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament next year. Otherwise, Panama or El Salvador will progress instead.
Honduras, who have failed to build on an excellent year in 2001 when they beat Brazil at the Copa America and were voted FIFA's team of the year, must win their second-stage match to accompany Guatemala into the final round from Group B.
Costa Rica, who gave a good account of themselves in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea where they were pipped on goal difference for a second-round place by eventual semi-finalists Turkey, only need a draw.
A tense atmosphere is expected and the visitors are already upset at Honduras's decision to move the game to the 20,000 capacity Francisco Morazan stadium, where the crowd is closer to the pitch than in the country's usual venues.
The Costa Ricans say the stadium, named after a Honduran national hero who was shot dead in Costa Rica in 1842, was not on the original list of venues nominated by the Hondurans.
Honduras began the group by beating Costa Rica 5-2 away but have not won since. Coach Raul Martinez was fired after last month's 1-0 defeat in Guatemala and replaced by stalwart Jose de la Paz Herrera, who returns for a third stint.
Honduras will be without their top scorer David Suazo as the Italian-based striker, who has five goals, is out with a thigh strain.
Malaga's Paulo Wanchope, with five goals in his last three qualifiers, is the main threat for the Ticos.
"There are a lot of experienced players who can face this atmosphere," said Costa Rica midfielder Steven Bryce.
Guatemala, who qualified with a game to spare, face eliminated Canada in the group's other match.
Jamaica can expect sub-zero temperatures in Columbus, Ohio, where they face United States, who are already qualified.
The Reggae Boyz, led by Brazil's 1990 World Cup coach Sebastiao Lazaroni, are second in Group A with six points, followed by Panama on five and El Salvador on four.
Austrian-based striker Roberto Brown, Panama's leading scorer with four goals, faces a late fitness test before the match against El Salvador in Panama City.
Thirty-two-year-old Argentine-born midfielder Emiliano Pedrozo, who won Salvadorean nationality last month, could make his debut for the visitors.
Trinidad & Tobago need only a point at home to St Vincent & Grenadines to join Mexico as the qualifiers from Group C and complete the line-up.
The Soca Warriors will be missing leading scorer Stern John, who has six goals, through injury but should be too powerful for their smaller neighbours.
Coach Bertille St Clair, however, was taking nothing from granted.
"We are not going for a walk in the park and actually they said they are coming to give us some 'Vincy heat' so we have to be prepared to cool them down," he said.
Mexico, who have enjoyed some shooting practice in the group, will attempt to finish with a 100 percent record and add to their 19 goals from five games when they host St Kitts & Nevis in Monterrey.