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Big Chaco
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Welcome to Chaco's CONCACAF preview. The 2nd qualifying round will kick off August 20 and I can't wait. For fans of small countries that dream of making the World Cup (Guatemala, Suriname) or wishing to return after decades (Canada, El Salvador, Honduras), this is what we wait for. As for the second phase, there will be 3 groups with 4 teams each. The top two in each group go the the final hexagonal round. Concacaf has three automatic bids, and 4th place goes to play a South American team in a home-home series (great move by FIFA by the way on this one, I felt bad that T&T had to go to Bahrain).

So...Group A features the USA, Guatemala, Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago. Now, we all know the USA has a cakewalk and will be the least challenged among the 12 teams left in qualifying. I think the USA will win the group w/ a couple draws on the road. I really don't see the US losing a game here.

Now the more important part, who gets second-place. These teams will have to play solid at home and at least get one win on the road.

First, Cuba. Cuba has shown moments of great football during Gold Cup competitions in the past. Unfortunately, politics and the social reality of Cuba will hinder their sports. Defections have damaged Cuba's football prospects. Remember, last year's Gold Cup and how impressive Cuba played the first game. But with defections, they were literally undermanned by the third match. For this reason, I don't see Cuba getting 2nd place. They won't go down easily, but fate will repeat for the Cubans.

Guatemala. Now, if anyone remembers qualifying for Germany 2006, Guatemala were on their way to seal the 4th spot. But Coach Madriaga's team fell apart during the final third. Guatemala can be characterized as a very physical team. They will depend Carlos Ruiz, el Pando and their solid keeper. They also hope the weather is in their favor because playing in Guatemala can be brutal. Can Ramon Madriaga (coach) avoid another collapse like he did in 2005 w/ Guatemala and 2001 with a talented Honduran team?

Trinidad & Tobago. The turning point in their qualification campaign to 2006 was that amazing come-from-behind victory against Guatemala in Port of Spain. Guatemala was winning 2-1 with 5 minutes left but Stern John scored two goals to give T&T the victory which would later give them the momentum to get that 4th spot to Guate's dismay. Now, T&T has been in a bit of a disarray with the pay dispute from players. They struggled to get into this round w/ a 3-2 aggregate win over Bermuda. However, you can't count out these guys.

The Schedule: For obvious, non-footballing reasons, Cuba-USA in Havana will get the attention. However, the game to keep an eye for is the October 10th game between Guatemala and T&T in Guatemala. This would be the second game between the two so the stakes may be high.

Predictions: 1st-USA, 2nd-Guatemala (by goal difference)

Next time, the juicy group featuring Mexico, Canada, Jamaica and Honduras.

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