The first of three double-dates got the Concacaf World Cup semifinal round underway, and early results indicate that at least two of the three groups -- from which six teams will advance to the Hexagonal -- could go down to the final day of qualifying in October.
Mexico, not surprisingly, and Panama, somewhat surprisingly, were the only teams to take maximum points from their first two group games.
Panama’s 2-0 defeat of Honduras in San Pedro Sula, on goals by Blas Perez16 minutes apart in the second half, blew apart the prognostications in Group C. Antigua & Barbuda caused a mini-sensation in Group A by tying Jamaica, 0-0, at home after losing to the USA, 3-1, in Tampa.
El Salvador jarred Costa Rica’s start by rallying for a 2-2 tie and despite losing its home opener to Mexico, 2-1, looks like a serious challenger to the Ticos’ Hexagonal hopes.
Here’s a rundown of how the 12 semifinal-round teams stack up after two games played, with the team’s record in parentheses followed by goals scored/goals conceded:
1. MEXICO (2-0-0) 5/2.The Mexicans looked a bit disjointed Tuesday even though they got a late goal from Hector Moreno to beat El Salvador, 2-1, in a very tense match. There shouldn’t be any nervous moments through this phase or the next, but so hysterical are the fans and press that just about anything might happen. Coach Jose Manuel De La Torre and his players triggered outrage by scoring only three times to beat Guyana in the opener, 3-1. So it goes south of the border.
2. PANAMA (2-0-0) 3/0.FC Dallas striker Blas Perez is blossoming into the type of scorer a team can ride through a tough qualifying campaign. He scored both goals in a stunning 2-0 defeat of Honduras in San Pedro Sula that gave the Canaleros the advantage in Group C, and they managed to retain that slot by beating Cuba, 1-0. The momentum built by Coach Julio Dely Valdeswhen Panama beat the USA in the Gold Cup last year is picking up steam.
3. USA (1-0-1) 4/2.The Americans were disappointed to concede a late goal in Guatemala City that produced the final score of 1-1 on Tuesday. The return of Fabian Johnson, who missed the 3-1 defeat of Antigua & Barbuda because of injury, eased concerns that the left-back spot might revert to its troublesome ways but the attack -- aside from Clint Dempsey -- sputtered.
4. JAMAICA (1-0-1) 2/1.The Jamaicans held serve at “The Office” in Kingston to down Guatemala, 2-1, but were unable to break through Antigua & Barbuda and settled for a goalless point away. CoachTheodore Whitmore started four MLS players and managing their minutes in September -- when the Jamaicans play home-and-away with the USA -- will be a critical factor. Ryan Johnson(Toronto FC) and Dane Richards (Red Bulls) didn’t finish the second match.
5. CANADA (1-0-1) 1/0.A encouraging 1-0 win last Friday in Havana -- the same result attained by the USA at the same venue four years ago -- didn’t lead to better things for Canada’s home opener: it tied Honduras, 0-0, Tuesday at BMO Field. Coach Stephen Hartalso missed out on Jonathan de Guzman; the brother of Toronto FC midfielder Julian de Guzman has decided to play for the Netherlands rather than Canada.
6. COSTA RICA (1-0-1) 6/2.Seldom has a mark of four points from two matches been more deceiving. The Ticos blew a 2-0 lead at home and ended up tied, 2-2, with El Salvador, and they pounded four goals past feeble Guyana on the road. RSL striker Alvaro Saborio scored four goals in the two matches but the defensive glitches exposed by El Salvador, whether caused by complacency or not, need to be addressed.
7. EL SALVADOR (0-1-1) 3/4.Though winless, the Salvadorans started off by rallying from two goals down to tie Costa Rica, 2-2, in San Jose, and battled Mexico into the final minutes before losing, 2-1. Alfredo Pacheco’s free kick that tied up Mexico, 1-1, gives them another threat along with Osael Romero and a few others. The defense needs some shoring up but El Salvador is clearly the upset special of this semifinal phase.
8. GUATEMALA (0-1-1) 2/3. A few observers were surprised when Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa didn’t start against the USA, and his free-kick goal off the bench in the 83rd minute rescued a 1-1 tie that keeps the Chapines in the hunt for a Hexagonal place. In a 2-1 loss to Jamaica Dwight Pezzarossi, another sub, scored in stoppage time. Changes in the starting lineup would seem to be in order.
9. HONDURAS (0-1-1) 0/2.A disastrous 2-0 home loss to Panama last week dropped the Catrachos temporarily into last place in Group B, and though they came back Tuesday to grab a point in Toronto, and have yet to play Cuba home and away, they are in real danger of missing out on a Hexagonal place. The Oct. 12 match in Panama, though nearly four months away, is already fixated in the minds of Honduran fans.
10. ANTIGUA & BARBUDA (0-1-1) 1/3. The Benna Boys got their first point by stymieing Jamaica, 0-0, at home, and could certainly complicate the math by doing the same to Guatemala and/or the USA. Peter Byers reminded everyone what the Earthquakes saw in him three years ago by pouncing on a mistake to score a goal against the USA that might prompt a followup offer from MLS.
11. CUBA (0-2-0) 0/2.Two respectable showings have produced a pair of 1-0 defeats (at home against Canada, and at Panama). If Cuba can take even a point off Honduras, which it plays home and away in September, the group will get very tricky.
12. GUYANA (0-2-0) 1/7.The Golden Jaguars' only goal was an own goal by Mexico, scored after an own goal of their own, which is probably how the rest of the semifinal round will play out.