Thursday, June 11, 2009

ATH: Mexico and Honduras move up

CONCACAF Results: Honduras Moves To Third

By Clemente Lisi - NEW YORK, NY (Jun 11, 2009) USSoccerPlayers -- The Hexagonal heated up on Wednesday night with a pair of matches that saw Mexico finally win a game and Honduras move into third place.

With the top three teams automatically earning berths to the 2010 World Cup (the fourth-place team plays the fifth from South America in a two-game playoff), Mexico regained its form with a home win over lowly Trinidad & Tobago, while Honduras edged out Central American rivals El Salvador.

Here is a recap of the games as the six-team, round-robin tournament reached its midpoint:

Mexico 2 – Trinidad & Tobago 1

The altitude of Mexico City and the friendly atmosphere of the palatial Azteca Stadium were a welcome sight for the Mexican players.

The team, winless on the road during qualifying, had the crowd on its side. The Mexican team returned the favor, hanging on to defeat Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 after Oscar Rojas scored the game-winner in the second half. Indeed, El Tri’s homecoming, following its 2-1 loss to El Salvador on Saturday, gave coach Javier Aguirre’s team some much-needed comfort amid its qualifying crisis.

Mexico had previously defeated T&T 7-0 and 3-0 the last two times it played at home in World Cup qualifying.

Playing without suspended midfielders Pavel Pardo and Gerardo Torrado, coach Javier Aguirre made a few changes to his lineup and used Israel Castro to cover both roles. Facing a must-win game, the Mexicans, with Chicago Fire striker Cuatehmoc Blanco in the starting lineup, came out swinging and scored the opening goal after just 59 seconds.

Francisco Rodriguez passed the ball from midfield to Nery Castillo just outside the penalty area. Castillo turned and fed a smooth pass that beat Trinidad & Tobago defenders Carlos Edwards and Martin Edwards to a streaking Guillermo Franco, who chipped the ball over goalkeeper Clayton Ince.

Haydon Tinto put T&T back into the game in the dying seconds of first-half injury time, grabbing a poor backpass from Andres Guardado and unleashing a right-footed blast from 20 yards out that beat goalkeeper Oscar Perez in the upper right corner.

Rojas put Mexico back on top three minutes into the second period, scoring on a 35-yard rocket of a shot to give his team the win.

Mexico had won only three of its previous 11 matches – two of which were friendlies – and is on track again to reach the World Cup finals.

“The situation is complicated, but not severe,” Aguirre told reporters during a news conference the day after the El Salvador loss. “We have a chance at recuperating. It doesn’t matter where we’re at today, but where we’ll be October 14. With 18 points, we’re in the World Cup.”

Mexico, who has been at every World Cup since 1994, hosts the US on August 12 in another pivotal match at the Azteca.

Honduras 1 – El Salvador 0

A World Cup qualifier between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969 sparked the so-called “Soccer War” – a four-day military conflict between the nations over immigration that intensified on the playing field – although all was peaceful this time when the sides met at the Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula.
A goal by midfielder Carlos Pavon in the first half gave the home team a 1-0 win over El Salvador, leaving them in CONCACAF's last guaranteed place for next year's World Cup.

Pavon, who plays for Mexican club Necaxa, pounced on a rebound in front of El Salvador goalkeeper Miguel Montes in the 15th minute to score the game’s only goal.

The win catapulted Honduras (2-2-1) into third place with seven points after five games -- one ahead of Mexico (2-3) and two better than El Salvador (1-2-2), which slumped to fifth. Trinidad & Tobago (0-3-2) are in last place with just two points.

Costa Rica (4-1) currently lead the group, by virtue of its 3-1 win over the US last week, while the Americans (3-1-1) are just two points behind in second.

Clemente Lisi is the author of “A History of the World Cup: 1930-2006.”

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