GUATEMALA BRIEFING: Chapines' best shot

SCOUTING REPORT. Guatemala, which first entered World Cup qualifying in 1957, has its best shot at finally reaching the finals.

With four points, the Chapines are in second place after two games, and a win or tie against the United States Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala. (TV: ESPN2, live 8 pm ET) would boost their chances of winning one of the three direct berths to Germany '06. At worse, Guatemala is expected to finish fourth, ahead of Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, and earn a playoff berth against Asia's No. 5 team.

Guatemala is expected to make only one change from the team that beat Trinidad & Tobago, 5-1, on Saturday.

Ricardo Triguego should again start in goal ahead of Miguel Klee. The backline in the 4-4-2 formation appears set with Gustavo Cabrera, Pablo Melgar, Nestor Martinez and Denis Chen. Recent Columbus Crew acquisition Mario ''El Loco'' Rodriguez will probably replace Carlos Figueroa, but the midfield will be otherwise unchanged with Gonzalo Romero, Fredy Thompson and Guillermo Ramirez. Carlos Ruiz and Dwight Pezzarossi, who combined for four goals against T&T, will start up front.

Ramirez was the only player not at practice Monday night at Birmingham Southern College. He was in Guatemala City getting his work visa to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

FAMILIAR FOES. This marks the fourth straight qualifying campaign that the United States has faced Guatemala. Each time, the Americans have won at home and tied away (the 1996 away qualifier was played in El Salvador). Guatemala won the first four meetings in the series, all in Guatemala City, but the United States is unbeaten in the last 10 games, dating back to a 1-0 win in 1988 on a goal by Jeff Agoos.

HONDURAN CONNECTION. Guatemala is coached by Honduran Ramon Maradiaga, nicknamed ''Primi,'' short for ''Primitivo'' (''Caveman''). Maradiaga coached Honduras in World Cup qualifying four years ago. He captained the Catrachos in their only appearance in the World Cup finals, in 1982. His assistant is Gilberto Yearwood, the star of the 1982 Honduran team and also a former Honduran national team coach.

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