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The Importance of Winning Games at Home (And Taking Points on the Road)

If you have ever discounted the importance of winning games at home, the final numbers of the top four teams from 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF should make you sit up and take notice. During the cycle, Mexico finished its home slate of games a perfect 9-0-0. The U.S. concluded 8-0-1, with a draw against Costa Rica on the final matchday securing the top position in the group.

Costa Rica and Honduras, however, went 8-1-0, with the key losses to Mexico and the U.S., respectively. Those defeats meant Costa Rica and Honduras were left needing an away result in the final game to ensure a chance of sewing up the final automatic berth to the World Cup. Honduras got the win in El Salvador, and we know what happened to Costa Rica.

Finishing in first place in qualifying, the United States proved especially effective on the road, taking points in six of nine matches away from home. Overall, the USA collected a road record of 5-3-1, going 2-2-1 in the final round. After a draw in El Salvador and consecutive defeats in Costa Rica and Mexico, the United States rebounded with a 1-0 win in Trinidad thanks to a goal from Ricardo Clark, and then registered a massive 3-2 win in Tegucigalpa on the strength of a pair of strikes from Conor Casey and Landon Donovan’s game-winning free kick.

Despite running the table at home and going .500 away, keep this in mind: it still took until the second-to-last round in order for the U.S. to secure its place in South Africa. Why? Again, look at the records of the top four teams on their own turf.

Heading into the Final Round of the 2014 edition, some of the six participants in the Hexagonal have shown cracks in the armor on the home front. Only the United States and Mexico posted perfect results. Costa Rica once again succumbed to El Tri during the Semifinal Round.

Honduras opened the Semifinal Round with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Panama, and Jamaica nearly cost themselves dearly with a scoreless draw against Antigua & Barbuda. Panama’s scoreless tie against Honduras on Matchday 5 set up serious tension for their climactic conclusion against Cuba, needing a goal 13 minutes from the final whistle to earn the point required to advance.

The formula is time-tested and remains the same: win at home, and snatch as many points as you can on the road. One slip can prove disastrous, and timing can be critical. You can be sure the mental gymnastics on all the possible scenarios will begin tonight for the six teams, media and fans alike when all learn their roadmap to Brazil.