By Jose M. Romero /@RomeroJoseM
For FOX Deportes
In a soccer tournament with three groups of four teams, each team has only six games – two against each of the rest of the teams in the group – to gather enough points to move on the next round.
In other words, Mexico and the United States, the two top teams in the CONCACAF region, have to keep racking up points from wins or draws so as to move on from the group qualifying stage to the final stage, from which the World Cup 2014 teams will come. The top two teams from the three groups advance to a final stage of six teams.
Two of the six group matches are in the books with the next pair of games not until September. Both the Mexicans and Americans, especially the Trciolores, have to be happy or least content with their results.
Mexico earned six points with wins over Guyana last week and a thrilling 2-1 victory over El Salvador in the nation’s capital, San Salvador, Tuesday night. El Tri heads to the two-month hiatus knowing it will face its biggest challenger in its group, Costa Rica, on the road and at home in September,
Mexico coach Chepo de la Torre had to be happy to get offensive production from two players who aren’t asked to be the main scoring options. Defender Hector Moreno scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 82nd minute, knocking in his own rebound to give Mexico a 2-1 lead it would hold. Midfielder Jesus Zavala managed to stay onside when he scored in the 60th minute to give Mexico the lead, 1-0.
This is one of the things that could make the Mexican team very special in qualifying and ultimately the next World Cup. It’s been established that Mexico has strikers who are dangerous – if the midfielders and fullbacks get into the act, Mexico has more players for opponents to stop.
While El Salvador might have bottled up main man Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – though he was still a threat throughout the game – perhaps that strategy opened things up for other players to get shots.
El Salvador was a good test. Difficult atmosphere, a team that played with purpose and it gave Mexico a good run. Mexico probably would have been fine with a draw coming out of that madhouse.
The U.S. had the opportunity to pick up three huge points on the road in Guatemala City, but couldn’t keep Guatemala off the board in the late minutes.
Watching U.S. forward Clint Dempsey make those two Guatemalan defenders miss him with attempted tackles was pretty impressive. It seemed that score of 1-0 would hold after 40 minutes, but Marco Pappa, of the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer, equalized in the 83rd minute to give Guatemala its first point of qualifying.
Over the years, it’s been proven that road matches are difficult in CONCACAF play no matter where they are or who is involved, from group leader to bottom dweller. To get a point out of Central America at least gave the U.S. a tie for the lead in their group with Jamaica.
In September, the U.S. and Jamaica will play home-and-home matches with the top spot in the group on the line, so the caliber of opponent only gets better for the Americans after a fairly easy win over Antigua and Barbuda along with the tie in Guatemala.
Guatemala had some great chances and probably felt it should have won the match. Ranked 57 spots ahead of Guatemala in FIFA’s national team rankings (28 vs. 85), the U.S. couldn’t finish but will take a road draw, given the quality chances Guatemala missed.