What to expect from Central American teams...

2010-04-08 08:19

Despite the steady improvement of the United States in recent

decades and Mexico’s strong traditions, little is expected at the 2010 FIFA

World Cup from the three qualifiers from the CONCACAF region.

To further make the point, Honduras is the third representative - a

tiny Central American country playing in only its second World Cup. In the last

one, in 1982, the team finished last in its four-team group and didn’t win a

game.

Most eyes will be on the United States and Mexico. Neither country

has reached the semifinals since the Americans finished third at the inaugural

World Cup in 1930. Should either team advance that far, it would be the biggest

surprise of the tournament.

The United States, which was the top qualifier from the region,

will play England, Algeria and Slovenia in Group C. That is one of the easier

groups with England nearly certain to claim one of the top two places and reach

the second round.

Gone are the days when American players were largely unknown. Most

of the starters are playing in Europe, and in February, coach Bob Bradley called

up 16 Europe-based players for the team’s friendly against the

Netherlands.

The United States will also be confident after a 2-0 victory over

European champions Spain and a 3-2 loss to five-time champions Brazil in last

year’s 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.

The Americans probably lack a match-winning player. They also have

injury problems with AC Milan central defender Oguchi Onyewu recovering from

knee surgery.

The biggest loss could be forward Charlie Davies, who can change a

match with his pace and his understanding with playmaker Landon Donovan.

Davies sustained life-threatening injuries in a car crash last

year. Injuries included two broken bones in his right leg, a broken and

dislocated left elbow, a broken nose, forehead and eye socket, a ruptured

bladder and bleeding on the brain. He resumed training in March with French club

Sochaux, but nobody is predicting he will be ready.

Lesser known players Benny Feilhaber and Stuart Holden - both

midfielders - are also battling injuries.

Mexico faces host South Africa, 1998 champion France and South

American qualifier Uruguay in Group A. Half of Mexico’s squad could be

Europe-based, an increase on past tournaments when only one or two players would

be drawn from the continent’s top leagues.

The opening match against the hosts on June 11 could be crucial.

South Africa is lightly regarded, but a home victory would be a big boost. For

Mexico, a defeat would put qualification to the knockout round in immediate

jeopardy.

The group is rated one of the easiest and should make Mexicans

optimistic. France needed a playoff to qualify, while Uruguay is ranked lower

than Mexico and possesses a style well known to Mexican players.

Rightly or wrongly, Mexican fans will be devastated if the team

does not reach the knockout stage.

Honduras is in Group H with European champions Spain, Chile and

Switzerland - all ranked higher than the Central American side. Honduras can

count on Premier League players like Wigan defender Maynor Figueroa and Wilson

Palacios, who joined Tottenham last year.

Reaching the knockout stages would spark dancing in the streets of

the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, a welcome change from the riots that

accompanied last June’s political coup in the country.


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