[WORLD CUP 2014 QUALIFYING COUNTDOWN] For the United States and Mexico, perennial favorites to qualify for the World Cup, the only question on Day 1 of the
semifinal round of Concacaf qualifying is how many goals will they win by when they host minnows Antigua & Barbuda and Guyana from the Caribbean zone, respectively. But Friday's other four games
-- Jamaica-Guatemala, Costa Rica-El Salvador, Cuba-Canada and Honduras-Panama -- are all intriguing matchups that will give an early indication of how things stack up in the three groups from which
the top two move on to next year's Hexagonal.
JAMAICA-GUATEMALA. The Reggae Boyz will be the favorites to get the job done at "The Office," Kingston's National Stadium. Jamaica beat Guatemala, 2-0, at the 2011 Gold Cup to extend its unbeaten streak against Guatemala to 12 games (nine wins and three ties), though they've never met in World Cup qualifying. Jamaica has enough talent to survive the loss of Marlon King and Chris Humphrey, dropped from the squad after breaking curfew. Guatemala, on the other hand, is reeling following the loss of former MLS players Pando Ramirez and Gustavo Cabrera, and Yoni Flores, mixed up in a match-fixing investigation. MLS Connection: Jamaica -- Donovan Ricketts (Montreal), Ryan Johnson (Toronto FC), Dane Richards (New York), Je-Vaughn Watson (Houston), Jermaine Taylor (Houston), Lovel Palmer (Portland), Guatemala -- Marco Pappa (Chicago).
MEXICO-GUYANA. Guyana's Golden Jaguars were the surprise of Concacaf's qualifying round, winning a group that included Trinidad & Tobago, but they have absolutely no chance at Azteca Stadium against Mexico, which is coming off a 2-0 win over Brazil. Star Javier Hernandez refused to get caught up in the talk of a double-digit rout. "I have never spoken badly of an opponent," Chicharito said, "and I am never going to. We need the three points to start on the right foot." MLS Connection: Mexico -- Rafael Marquez (New York).
COSTA RICA-EL SALVADOR. Last time around, the Ticos would have been the clear favorites, but they have struggled in the last couple of years, while El Salvador is improving. This is the third straight qualifying round in which they've met. Costa Rica swept the semifinal round four years ago, while the teams split in the 2009 Hexagonal. The game will be the first qualifier at San Jose's new National Stadium. MLS Connection: Costa Rica -- Roy Miller (New York), Porfirio Lopez (Philadelphia), Rodney Wallace (Portland), Olman Vargas (Columbus), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake); El Salvador -- Steve Purdy (Portland).
CUBA-CANADA. There is reason for optimism that Canada might have a shot of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, but it faces a must-win game right out of the gate against Cuba in Havana. Canada struggled at times to score against lesser opponents in last year's qualifying round. It had to settle for 0-0 ties with Puerto Rico in Toronto and St. Kitts & Nevis away. MLS Connection: Canada -- Andre Hainault (Houston), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), Ante Jazic (Chivas USA), Ashtone Morgan (Toronto FC), Julian de Guzman (Toronto FC), Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United), Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake).
HONDURAS-PANAMA. Honduras and Panama are the two hottest teams in Central America. Both reached the semifinals of the 2011 Gold Cup. Honduras is coming off a 3-0 win over El Salvador before almost 42,000 fans at Washington's RFK Stadium, while Panama beat Jamaica twice, 1-0 and 2-1. Veteran David Suazo is doubtful up front for the Catrachos, but they still have former Houston Dynamo striker Carlo Costly as well as young star Choco Lozano from their Olympic team. MLS Connection: Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Roger Espinoza (Sporting KC); Panama -- Blas Perez (FC Dallas), Gabriel Gomez (Philadelphia).
USA vs. Antigua & Barbuda
Jamaica vs. Guatemala
Antigua & Barbuda vs. Jamaica
Guatemala vs. USA
Mexico vs. Guyana
Costa Rica vs. El Salvador
Guyana vs. Costa Rica
El Salvador vs. Mexico
Honduras vs. Panama
Cuba vs. Canada
Canada vs. Honduras
Panama vs. Cuba