Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Road to 2010: Western Hemisphere

More qualifying madness! Eight matches in the Americas on Saturday to wrap up a huge day of qualifying matches for South Africa 2010.

We dealt with the Eastern Hemisphere in the post below. Now for the New World ...

In short, the salient events were Mexico going into Costa Rica and spanking the Ticos ... Argentina being pummeled by Brazil, but the damage being limited, apparently, only to to Argentine pride. Brazil, meanwhile, clinched a berth in South Africa, continuing its run of never having failed to qualify for the finals.

More on the Western Hemisphere:

Game of the day: Mexico 3, Costa Rica 0. Giovani dos Santos, the attacking revelation from Tottenham, scored the first goal and assisted on the others as Los Tricolores blistered the Ticos in their home stadium and thoroughly recalibrated the Concacaf qualifying picture. The standings now are excruciatingly tight, but resurgent Mexico now is in the best position to gain one of the region's three guaranteed berths to South Africa 2010, and here's why: Mexico gets two of its final three matches at home, where it is always formidable, and ends at Trinidad & Tobago, which will be playing for nothing. And of the two home matches, only Honduras, on Wednesday, figures to be a test; the other is against little El Salvador. ... Meanwhile, Costa Rica, which led the standings most of the year, has been blitzed 7-0 in its last two matches and must recover in a hurry to avoid finishing fourth. The Ticos go up to El Salvador on Wednesday, and the Salvadorans haven't lost at home yet in the Hexagonal; gets T&T at home (a fairly certain three points) -- and then plays at the U.S., where it hasn't done well in decades.

Surprisingly inconsequential game of the day: Brazil 3, Argentina 1. Whenever these two meet, it's a competition of global significance. But Argentina's heavy defeat, even at home, did not cost it its fourth-place position in the South American standings because its top pursuers stumbled as well, and to sides not vaguely as formidable as la selecao. Argentina needs to win a road match however, something it hasn't been up to for nearly two years, if it wants to hang onto the fourth spot -- and a guaranteed berth at South Africa. (The No. 5 finisher goes into a playoff with Concacaf's No. 4 finisher.) Argentina goes to third-place Paraguay next, gets bottom-dweller Peru at home and finishes at Uruguay in a match that could determine Nos. 4-5. ... Meanwhile, Brazil punched its ticket to South Africa, thanks to two goals from Luis Fabiano, the Sevilla striker. Which was no great surprise, if a relief for Carlos Dunga & Co. ... Meanwhile, we have to wonder of Diego Maradona, Argentina's coach, might be in trouble if he doesn't get a result at Paraguay.

Ugly game of the day: United States 2, El Salvador 1. We didn't see them all, of course, but it would be hard to top the listless and erratic performances these two turned in, in Sandy, Utah. The U.S. was shockingly sloppy in the back, clearly missing AC Milan's Oguchi Onyewu (one-game suspension), but the Salvadorans were unable to take advantage of a half-dozen great scoring chances. Landon Donovan was one of the few Americans who played well, setting up both goals with fine service from distance, and working back into the defense for all 90 minutes. A week from now, of course, it will look only like the Americans successfully defending their home turf. The Yankees go to Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday and would be well-advised to come back with three points against the region's cellar-dweller.

Biggest missed opportunity of the day: Peru 1, Uruguay 0. The two-time World Cup champions had the easiest road test to be had in South America, at sea level, against guppy Peru, where the national team was in open revolt against the federation over money issues. But Uruguay couldn't manage a goal and conceded one to Hernan Rengifro in the 86th minute, and the Uruguayans missed a chance to move into fifth place, only one point behind fourth-place Argentina.

Most dramatic home improvement: Colombia 2, Ecuador 0. After a rough patch that lasted almost a year, Colombia thrust itself squarely into the discussion for the No. 5 spot -- and maybe even the No. 4 spot currently occupied by Argentina. Jackson Martinez and Teofilo Gutierrez scored in the final 15 minutes to win it for Colombia at Medellin, and the Colombians now are tied with Ecuador for fifth, with 20 points. Colombia is at Uruguay on Wednesday in a critical match,
then gets Chile at home and Paraguay away, next month. A tough road, but now doable.

And now we turn our attention to the five Africa matches being contested today. More on that to come.

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