Sunday, July 31, 2011

Road Becomes Clearer

On Saturday, the U.S. and CONCACAF all learned their opponents in upcoming World Cup qualifying and just what the road to Brazil 2014 will look like.

Some got a favorable draw while others didn't. And still others were handed a somewhat difficult task.

Group A: United States, Jamaica, (likely) Guatemala, (likely) Haiti.

Not an overly troubling draw for the U.S. Could have been worse. Games at Jamaica and at Guatemala won't be easy and Haiti seems like it could pose some logistical challenges. But I can't imagine the U.S. not gaining nine points against this group.

The U.S. was in Jamaica's semifinal group in 2004 and had Guatemala in their group in 2000. It was a difficult go of it against both those opponents. Guatemala tied the U.S. in Guatemala and a Brian McBride goal helped give the U.S. a late 1-0 win over them here. The U.S. meanwhile needed some late heroics (Brian Ching goal) to help salvage a draw at The Office in Kingston. Not easy playing on the road but still, points are within reach.

Group B: Mexico, Costa Rica, (likely) El Salvador, (likely) Trinidad & Tobago

This is easily the toughest group. All four of these potential group rivals were in the Hexagonal last time around. Mexico is the clear favorite and should have no problems winning... at least, that's what conventional wisdom says. Mexico lost at El Salvador in the Hex last time around, and conventional wisdom would have called for a Mexico victory or a draw at worst.

Still, Mexico should come out on top. The battle for the second spot is intriguing. Costa Rica is the second-strongest side in this group but that doesn't mean anything. Costa Rica will surely have a tough go at it in El Salvador while Trinidad & Tobago is the wild card. They could either be a dangerous side or roll over and die.

Group C: Honduras, Cuba, (likely) Panama, (likely) Canada

Could this be Canada's road to the Hexagonal? The Canadians have not made it into the final six since 1997 despite having some strong talent go through there in the decade-plus since then. Canada should have a slight edge in the weather department as matches in the fall will be quite cool.

Honduras were the lone Hex participants from this group in 2009 and while they wrapped up a World Cup spot, they are also a bit of an inconsistent side as their Gold Cup 2011 form proved. Over six matches, though, Honduras' quality should win out while Canada will have to play stronger than they did in their unsuccessful Gold Cup '11 run as well.

These matches will all take place between June 1 through Oct. 16, 2012.

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