US SoccerUS Soccer
Clint Dempsey

No Easy Points in World Cup Qualifying

“There’s no such thing as an easy game in World Cup qualifying.”

It’s a mantra that is often repeated by those on the inside of teams and federations throughout the region. While history proves the statement an accurate portrait of the process, expectations can often exceed reality at the start of every qualifying cycle.

Exhibit #1 of the rigors and pitfalls of qualifying came on the first matchday of the CONCACAF Semifinal Round. The top two teams in the region hosted seemingly inferior opponents, and both slogged out satisfactory results. While the U.S. beat Antigua & Barbuda 3-1 in Tampa, the mighty fortress of Estadio Azteca saw Mexico grind out a matching result against a determined Guyana side. With only six games total and two teams from each group advancing, maximum points at home are vital but never guaranteed.

A further review of the box scores provided similar examples. Honduras, usually reliable victors at home, was dealt a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Panama. The Catrachos, whose qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup was built off an almost unblemished home record (blotted only, of course, by the USA’s famous victory), now face an uphill climb when they travel to Canada on June 12 for MatchDay 2 and could be staring at zero points from two matches.
Costa Rica squandered a two-goal advantage at the newly minted Estadio Nacional in San Jose, scoring twice in the first 16 minutes before El Salvador rallied to earn a 2-2 draw.

Guatemala, who lost 2-1 to Jamaica in Kingston, will be feeling the heat when they host the United States on Tuesday at Estadio Mateo Flores, and the entire nation will try to do their part to give the Chapines all the home field advantage they can muster. The Guatemalans will surely remember 2008, when the U.S. picked up a 1-0 victory in Guatemala City in the semifinal round. It was the USA’s first win in Guatemala in 20 years, and the first ever in qualifying.

No easy games, indeed.