By Michael Lewis
With one game completed, CONCACAF's World Cup semifinal round has begun to take some shape.
United States, Mexico and Jamaica won at home, as expected, on Friday, Panama surprised Honduras, and Canada and El Salvador earned important road points.
Besides "Los Catrachos", Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana and Antigua & Barbuda must regroup quickly for Tuesday's next encounters or risk dire odds in hopes against being one of six teams to advance to the "hexagonal" next year.
After a 2-1 win over Guatemala, Jamaica takes on Antigua in all-Caribbean confrontation on the road at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Coach Theodore Whitmore was generally pleased with his team's performance at home over Guatemala.
"I think it was a lot of energy, you could see the players were enjoying what they were doing as we worked on strategy going into the game against Antigua on Tuesday night," he was quoted by the Jamaican Observer.
"I am pretty much happy with where we are, we know it is going to be a tough game, as are Caribbean games, but we just have to come prepared."
The Jamaicans will play without goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who was injured his in the 20th minute on Friday. Dwayne Miller is expected to start in his place. Striker Luton Shelton, who has a groin injury, did not train on Sunday.
"I think he might be OK for the game, but I want a team that is fully fit for the game," Whitmore told the Observer.
Buoyed by his team's 3-1 loss against the Americans, Antigua coach Tom Curtis enters the game optimistic.
"Jamaica is a big side," he said. "They're a big team. Jamaica is a big team but we can handle them. It's the measure of how far Antigua has come when people are saying to us you have to beat Jamaica on Tuesday."
While the Americans were generally satisfied with the result against Antigua, it has prompted media criticism for a team that was unable to overcome the Caribbeans who often played with 10 or 11 behind the ball.
It's not a problem the United States feels will repeat at Mateo Flores Stadium in Guatemala City against "Los Chapines".
"I don't think Guatemala's going to sit back at home, so I don't think we're going to have to deal with that problem," said U.S. striker Clint Dempsey, who converted a penalty kick. "I think they're going to be on the front foot. They're going to be playing with that confidence that they've got the whole stadium behind them, and I don't really see them being a team that's going to sit back at home during a World Cup qualifier. In that sense, we don't have to worry about them packing it in the back.
"We've still got to move the ball quickly and take our chances when they come. We're still a work in progress. We're still trying to figure out what our best 11 is, what our best formation is, and we've got the games coming up to prove it. We've got to win away from home if we want to qualify for the World Cup and that starts with the next game."
The Americans are unbeaten in 17 games - including 12 wins -- against Guatemala, including 6-4-0 in World Cup qualifying. Guatemala has not beaten the United States since 1988.
Like the United States, Mexico won 3-1 at home over lightly regarded Guyana. And it too was criticized for being unable to post a more dominating score. In fact, striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez felt El Tri still had to look back before it plans for its encounter against El Salvador in San Salvador.
El Salvador was buoyed by rallying from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 at Costa Rica.
"The El Salvador match will be difficult, but we still have to think of the Guyana match because there are things to improve," Hernandez told reporters. "We should have won by a wider margin. Even winning, drawing or losing, there are always things to improve.''
Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre felt his side will be ready to go.
"There's no fear about going to El Salvador, just the opposite," he said. "We've been planning for the game looking to get a good result."
After his team squandered that advantage at home, Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto is expected to make several changes as it meets Guyana in Georgetown.
"We're aware of the big responsibility we have in this match," Ticos striker Oscar Rojas was quoted by www.nacion.com. "We cannot change anything from the El Salvador game but we can correct some mistakes against Guyana."
Guyana, which has reached the qualifying semifinals for the first time, impressed de la Torre with its defense and speed.
"Guyana played well," he said. "They stayed back and had a lot of fast, strong players in defense to stifle us."
Coming home with road victories, the Panamanians and Canadians can solidify their standings position at home.
Panama, 2-0 winners at favored Honduras in the biggest surprise on Friday, host Cuba at Estadio Rommel Fernandez. The Central Americans have never qualified for the World Cup.
Cuba coach Alexander Gonzalez lamented the 1-0 home loss to Canada, saying the Caribbean side must find a way to solve recurring problems.
"Once again we continue suffering from the same problem," he said. "We handled the ball well at midfield, we had opportunities, but no player stepped up and scored.
"The defense lacked concentration at important moments. We made a mistake and the goal arrived."
The Hondurans, qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, must beat Canada at Toronto's BMO Field or risk being six points behind with only four games to play.
"Honduras (is) a very balanced team and (is) totally focused on beating us after they lost to Panama. So it will be much more difficult than before," Canada coach Stephen Hart told La Tribuna of Honduras.
Canada will play without goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld, who was ejected for handling the ball out of the penalty area in the 1-0 triumph at Cuba. Milan Borjan, his replacement in the game, is expected to start.
"It's going to be tough to play Honduras," Borjan said. "We're playing at home. We want as much as possible for fans to come to give us the 12th man. We need to win. We're trying to win all the games. We'll try to give our best."Added David Edgar, who set up the lone goal in Cuba: "We're going to take our performances on the road back home and start scoring some goals at home and get three points, if we can. Starting the series with six points, maximum points, that's a great effort and a good springboard.