Below is a breakdown of the five opponents the USA will face in the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying from Feb. 9 to Oct. 12, 2005. For a detailed look at the U.S. qualifying schedule, click here.
2006 WCQ Record: 3-2-3 (15GF, 11GA)
World Cup finals appearances: 2
Manager: Jorge Pinto
Leading Goalscorer in 2006 WCQ: Paulo Wanchope (5)
U.S. vs. Costa Rica all-time: 10-9-4 (25GF, 26GA)
vs. Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying: 4-6-2 (10GF, 13GA)
WCQ vs. Costa Rica. At Home: 4-1-1 (5GF, 2GA)
WCQ vs. Costa Rica Away: 0-5-1 (5GF, 11GA)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Costa Rica sweated through the semifinal round, not qualifying until the final match night when a 0-0 draw at Honduras gave the Ticos the top spot in Group 2. Costa Rica started very slowly, barely getting past Cuba to make the semifinal round before suffering a humiliating 5-2 defeat at home to Honduras in the first match and a 2-1 loss away to Guatemala. However, the Ticos turned it around, winning their next three matches and holding off Honduras to get to the final six.
OUTLOOK: Costa Rica is hoping to make their second straight World Cup, and third in the last five. Costa Rica is led by scoring sensation Paulo Wanchope, who tops the Tico scoring charts with five goals, and Chicago Fire forward Andy Herron. Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in San Jose is one of the most intimidating venues in the Western Hemisphere, but Costa Rica will have to improve their road record if they want to earn a ticket to Germany. With their experience and almost sure-fire points at home, the Ticos are a favorite to be in the top three in the group.
2006 WCQ Record: 4-2-4 (11 GF, 11 GA)
World Cup finals appearances: 0
Manager: Ramon Maradiaga
Leading Goalscorer in 2006 WCQ: Carlos Ruiz (6)
U.S. s. Guatemala all-time:7-4-3 (19 GF, 15 GA)
Vs. Guatemala In World Cup qualifying: 3-0-3 (8GF, 4GA)
WCQ vs. Guatemala At Home: 3-0-0 (5GF, 1GA)
WCQ vs. Guatemala Away: 0-0-2 (1GF, 1GA)
WCQ vs. Guatemala At Neutral Site: 0-0-1 (2GF, 2GA)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Guatemala is one of the surprises in the final round, finishing tied on points with Costa Rica at the top of Group 2. Guatemala started out strong in group play, taking seven out of 10 points from their first three matches. Behind the goalscoring prowess of Los Angeles Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz, Guatemala held on from there to enter the final round for the first time in history.
OUTLOOK: Guatemala will hope to re-capture their early round form as they look to qualify for their first World Cup. Honduran-born manager Ramon Maradiaga knows what it takes, as he was a member of the Honduran side that played in the 1982 World Cup. Ruiz has proved virtually unstoppable, and his ability to find the back of the net will largely determine Guatemala’s fortunes.
2006 WCQ Record: 8-0-0 (37 GF, 1 GA)
World Cup finals appearances: 6
Manager: Ricardo Lavolpe
Leading Goalscorer in 2006 WCQ: Jared Borguetti (10)
U.S. vs. Mexico all-time: 11-28-10 (53 GF, 109 GA)
U.S. vs. Mexico In World Cup qualifying: 4-13-4 (23GF, 61GA)
WCQ vs. Mexico At Home: 3-2-3 (14GF, 17GA)
WCQ vs. Mexico Away: 0-11-1 (5GF, 42GA)
WCQ vs. Mexico at Neutral Site: 1-0-0 (4GF, 2GA)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Mexico predictably coasted through Group 3, outscoring their opponents 27-1 while maintaining their 100% record in FIFA 2006 World Cup qualifying. Mexico's closest result was a 1-0 win vs. St. Vincent & Grenadines. Ricardo Lavolpe was pleased but not impressed with the tricolores romp through vastly outmatched opponents.
OUTLOOK: Mexico expects to qualify for their fourth straight World Cup, and has consistently demonstrated that they are one of the best teams in the region. Mexico is 12-2-2 since the 2002 World Cup against CONCACAF opponents, and has lost only qualifier in team history in the pollution-clogged high-altitude atmosphere of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The Mexicans boast the top two leading scorers in CONCACAF qualifying so far, with Jared Borguetti outpacing all scorers with 10 goals and Jaime Lozano just behind with eight tallies.
2006 WCQ Record: 4-2-2 (15GF, 11 GA)
World Cup finals appearances: 0
Manager: Jose Hernandez
Leading Goalscorer in 2006 WCQ: Roberto Brown (5)
U.S. vs. Panama all-time: 2-0-1 (9 GF, 2 GA)
U.S. vs. Panama In World Cup qualifying: 1-0-1 (7GF, 1GA)
WCQ vs. Panama At Home: 1-0-0 (6GF, 0GA)
WCQ vs. Panama Away: 0-0-1 (1GF, 1GA)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Panama is a surprise in the final round, finishing second in Group 1 and advancing to the final stage for the first time. Panama won their second group match at the normally impenetrable National Stadium in Jamaica, and from that moment put pressure on the Reggae Boyz for the second spot in the group. Nearly snatching a victory from the United States save for a Cobi Jones goal in the rain-soaked match in Panama City, they completed the pressure-packed final matchday with an impressive 3-0 win against El Salvador.
OUTLOOK: Panama racked up some goals in the semifinal round, led by the strikeforce of 37-year old Julio Dely Valdes and Roberto Brown. With a fairly unorthodox style, the Panamanians proved tough in Panama City but a little road weary. Like most newcomers, it’s likely their fate will be determined by their ability to steal points on the road.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
2006 WCQ Record: 6-0-2 (18 GF, 9 GA)
World Cup finals appearances: 0
Manager:Bertille Saint Clair
Leading Goalscorer in 2006 WCQ: Stern John (6)
U.S. vs. Trinidad all-time: 10-1-3 (20 GF, 7 GA)
U.S. vs. Trinidad In World Cup qualifying: 6-0-2 (10GF, 2GA)
WCQ vs. Trinidad At Home: 4-0-1 (8GF, 2GA)
WCQ vs. Trinidad Away: 2-0-1 (2GF, 0GA)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Trinidad & Tobago took care of business in the lightly-regarded group, winning all four matches vs. St. Vincent & Grenadines and St. Kitts & Nevis to finish second in Group 3. Trinidad struggled in both matches against group-winner Mexico, however, having been outscored 6-1.
OUTLOOK: Trinidad & Tobago is still trying to qualify for their first World Cup, and brings a bit more experience than Guatemala and Panama to the process. The Caribbean nation is led by former Columbus Crew forward Stern John, and their pace and athleticism could lead T&T to challenge the top three.
2006 WCQ Record: 5-0-3 (19 GF, 5 GA)
World Cup finals appearances: 7
Manager: Bruce Arena
Leading Goalscorer in 2006 WCQ: Ed Johnson (5)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The United States relied on determination to collect late goals in the first two road games and finish the semifinal round undefeated. The USA scored in the 88th minute in Jamaica and the 91st minute in Panama to earn important road draws. At home it was a different story, as convincing shutout victories against El Salvador (2-0) and Panama (6-0) saw the U.S. qualified before the round’s conclusion.
OUTLOOK: The United States are considered one of the favorites to qualify for their fifth consecutive World Cup. The USA has not lost to a CONCACAF opponent since September 5th, 2001, a string of 29 matches, and has only lost one home qualifying match since 1985. U.S. fans have seen the emergence of forwards Ed Johnson and Brian Ching as goalscoring threats, while the 22-year old Landon Donovan continues to evolve as a team leader.