The second round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifying is now a mere formality with only second-leg games of the final series to play; all the group winners who will move to the third and semi-final round have been determined.
The big surprises are the elimination of 2006 World Cup participant Trinidad and Tobago, kicked out of the tournament in a 2-1 victory by a much improved Guyana team, and the setback of Haiti, which played in the 1974 World Cup, in a 1-0 win by Antigua and Barbuda.
Trinidad and Tobago (9 pts.) was on the ropes going into its Group B qualifying series against group leader Guyana (13 pts.). Trinidad needed at least a draw in Guyana in the first leg in Guyana last Friday. Led by Trinidad and Tobago native, Jamal Shabazz, Guyana forged ahead, 1-0, at half time from a Ricky Shakes goal and then increased its lead, 2-0, in the second half on a goal by Leon Cort.
The Soca Warriors managed a goal later in the game from Kenwyn Jones as the Guyanese took victory to the delight of thousands of home fans and will now move to the semifinal round for the first time in their history.
Guyana will play in Group B against Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador next summer. In the other Group B game, host Bermuda defeated Barbados, 2-1, in a game for pride and FIFA rankings. Diquan Adamson scored Barbados’ only goal in the tournament. The second leg games in Group B and the other groups, which are mere formalities, were scheduled for Nov. 15.
Haiti, Caribbean champion in 2007, and Antigua and Barbuda were locked in a battle for Group F going into the first leg of their series. The game at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua was a tussle to the end until Kerry Skepple scored the winner to send Antigua and Barbuda to the semifinal round for the first time in team history.
Antigua and Barbuda will play in Group A against the USA, Jamaica and Guatemala. Curacao defeated U.S. Virgin Islands, 3-0, in the other Group F matchup.
In other qualifying matchups, El Salvador beat host Suriname, 3-1, to win Group A and advance to the semifinal round; hosts Dominican Republic beat up the Cayman Islands, 4-0, in the other group contest.
In Group C, Panama had already won the only three-team group after Bahamas opted out; in the only group match last Friday, Nicaragua got past Dominica, 1-0. Dominica will meet Panama to complete group play. Panama defeated Costa Rica in an international friendly last Friday. Panama will play in Group C versus Cuba, Honduras and Canada.
In Group D, St. Kitts and Nevis hosted Canada, which was in the driver’s seat going into the game last Friday; the Canadians needed only a draw and that is what they got as the team battled to the goalless tie.
Meanwhile, St. Lucia lost to Puerto Rica, 4-0. Host Guatemala maintained its unbeaten streak with a 3-0 win over Grenada. St. Vincent and the Grenadines played to a 1-1 draw in Belize. Two teams from each of the three, four-team semifinalists groups will advance to the final round of six teams for a round robin, home-and-away series.
The top three CONCACAF nations will qualify for Brazil 2014, with the fourth place team getting a chance for a berth in the World Cup by going against a team from another Confederation
U. S. Shows Well
The U. S. men’s national team, despite the 1-0 loss to France in an international friendly last Friday at Stade de France in Paris, played one of its best games under new coach Jurgen Klinsman. The U. S. with Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman playing deep and in midfield and in front to their back four helped the team to a solid defensive effort against a high-powered attacking French team.
The midfield adjustment helped the U.S. to be more compact in the middle of the field to force the French to attack on the wings. The Americans also got defensive help from wide midfielders Bret Shea and Danny Williams to support a successful effort throughout the game.
Laurent Blanc’s France team, unbeaten in its previous 15 games and recently qualified for next summer’s European Championships, dominated play for most of the game.
France had some success penetrating the U.S. on the flanks, particularly Bayern Munich (Germany) winger Frank Ribery on the left side, who got behind Steve Cherondulo at times, but a steady central defense, manned by captain Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson, stymied crosses and steadied the ship under much French pressure.
French forward Karim Benzema of Real Madrid (Spain) posed several threats to the U.S. defense as well. It was not until the 72nd minute, when French substitute Loic Remy outran and out-muscled Goodson on the right side to beat American goalkeeper Tim Howard at the far post for his fourth international goal.
For the U.S., Howard was a stalwart in goal as he made several excellent saves to keep the U.S. in contention; the Everton (England) net minder stopped Remy’s point-blank shot in the 69th minute. Howard’s teammates forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC, England) toiled hard on the front line. Klinsman has only one win along with four losses and a draw in his six games as the U.S. coach. He led the U.S. against Slovenia in a second international friendly on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
Striker Olivier Giroud, defensive midfielder Maxime Gonalons and defenders Laurent Koscielny and Jeremy Mathieu made their international debuts for France in the match.
St. John’s Wins Big East
St. John’s University (14-6-2) won the men’s Big East Soccer Championship with a 1-0 overtime win against the University of Connecticut (17-3-2) on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
After a goalless 90 minutes of play, a Connecticut defender lost the ball deep in his half to forward Jack Bennett, who went in on goalkeeper Andre Blake to score the only goal of the game in the 97th minute. UConn defeated Louisville, 1-0, in the first semifinal on Friday, while St. John’s defeated Villanova, 2-0, in the other. Both teams are expected to move into NCAA Division I play this week. St. John’s won a record ninth Big East Championship; Connecticut has won seven.