The United States won the Hexagonal with twenty points, while Mexico gave the best accounting in the second half of the competition, gaining 13 points out of a possible 15 after August. Honduras qualifies for the first time since 1982 (When the World Cup was a 24 team competition), and Costa Rica can feel hard done with 16 points yet being forced into a playoff with Uruguay. Last cycle, Costa Rica qualified directly for the World Cup with fewer points.
Elsewhere in CONCACAF, the decision of both Trinidad and Jamaica to hire two ex-players as Managers turns an important page in the development of Caribbean football. For years, both nations, the two best in the CFU zone, have relied on a revolving door of foreign coaches to lead the national teams. With the elevation of Russell Latapay and Theodore Whitmore to the top jobs, Caribbean Football has moved forward in an immeasurable manner.
Here is my choice for the CONCACAF Qualifying (semifinal and hexagonal stages) Best XI
GK: Tim Howard (USA/Everton)
D: Carlos Salcido (Mexico/PSV ), Oguchi Onyewu (USA/AC Milan), Jonny Magallon (Mexico/Guadalajara), Maynor Figeroua (Honduras/Wigan)
M: Walter Centano (Costa Rica/Saprisa), Wilson Palacios (Honduras/Spurs), Landon Donovan (USA/LA Galaxy), Gio Dos Santos (Mexico/Spurs)
FW: Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica/FC Twente), Carlos Pavon (Honduras/Real Espana)
MIP (Most Influential Player): Walter Centano, Costa Rica
Runner Up: Landon Donovan, USA
Obviously, a great number of other possible footballers could have made this best XI, but it speaks to the deepening pool of top CONCACAF players that the decisions were tough and so many on this list are a “big” clubs in Europe.
Looking ahead, it will be difficult for Costa Rica to overcome Uruguay in the Intercontinental playoff. But it is possible that the Ticos enormous home advantage at Saprissa with a rubber/concrete surface will serve them well against a South American side unlikely to be accustomed to such a ridiculous playing surface.
Mexico enters the World Cup as a side likely the strongest from the region. But as I stated in my highly controversial posting yesterday, Mexico is fortunate to have gotten this far, and has been largely unsporting in the process. That having been said, I would be stunned if the United States or Honduras had a better World Cup than Mexico.
What Javier Aguirre has done in a few short months is deepen the Mexican pool, while giving the young superstar trio of Gio Dos Santos, Andres Guardado and Carlos Vela more confidence and freer roles than they had under Sven Goran Eriksson. Additionally, the backline has looked much stronger than it did under Ricardo LaVolpe, Hugo Sanchez or Eriksson.
One last note: I have been in India now for the better part of two weeks, and have found the lack of emphasis on World Cup qualifying and the International game (other than England’s monster clash with Belarus) to be exceedingly disappointing. At the same time, everyone is waiting for the Premier League to restart this weekend, lamenting how horrible the “waste of time international break” is.
Here in South Asia, Anglophilia runs wild, and if it is not English, it hardly counts as interesting football for most. It’s a pity such a populated country is missing out on what the rest of the world loves.
Another thought. Most Indians do not support their domestic league, because they are mad about Liverpool, Man U or Arsenal. If we ever get to that point in the US, where the English game runs rough shot over our leagues, local clubs and national team we will have lost the battle for good.