The semifinal round is finally over and now we've narrowed the field down from 12 to six. The Hexagonal, CONCACAF's final World Cup qualifying round, is set and now each respective nation can focus on their opponents as 2009 starts to come into view.
The final piece of the puzzle will be revealed on Saturday as the Hexagonal draw will be held. But the field is complete, and here's a quick and early breakdown of the field of six.
Update: Semifinal record - 5-1-0, 14 gf, 3 ga, 15 pts. The United States breezed through qualifying, claiming a spot after four wins in four games. Had the U.S. taken its full squad to Trinidad, the Americans likely would have been a clean six-for-six. At home, the U.S. was nearly perfect, allowing only one goal in three home games.
Outlook: The U.S. won all five of its home games in the 2005 Hexagonal and won four of five in 2001. It seems difficult to imagine a scenario in which the U.S. would lose a home game next year. With 15 points from home games, the U.S. would likely need one win and a result or two more from its five road games - which the U.S. could do without trying too hard.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Update: Semifinal record - 3-1-2, 9 gf, 6 ga, 11 pts. Trinidad nearly blew its qualification when it failed to put away Guatemala in Port-of-Spain on the second matchday. Trinidad took a late 1-0 lead but squandered it away and tied 1-1. However, Trinidad recoverd nicely by pulling out a draw from Guatemala City. The win over the U.S. was their clutch victory and will serve as motivation next year.
Outlook: Trinidad finished fourth in 2005 and with the experience of the World Cup should enter this Hex in much better shape than four years ago. What will determine Trinidad's fate will be their play at home. Port-of-Spain is hardly a palace for the Trinis but it needs to be as their road form has traditionally been poor. If Trinidad leaves it for chance on the road, a repeat appearance in the World Cup will be out of the question.
Update: Semifinal record - 4-2-0, 9 gf, 5 ga, 12 pts: Honduras went through on a convincing 1-0 win over Mexico, a fitting end to an all-around strong effort by a strong CONCACAF nation. With a spotless record in San Pedro Sula, Honduras went through in first place of Group 2. Honduras was also strong on the road and actually held a late 1-0 lead in Estadio Azteca before allowing a pair of goals in a 2-1 loss to Mexico.
Outlook: As is seemingly always the case, Honduras is a darkhorse to advance to the World Cup. Flashes of brilliance coupled with some quality players gives Honduran fans reason to hope but prior history suggests said fans should also prepare for heartache and disappointment. Honduras was in position to qualify for the 2002 World Cup but failed to beat an already-eliminated Trinidad side at home and eventually bowed out of the Hexagonal quietly. In 2009, Honduras promises to be the most unknown side and could finish anywhere from second to sixth when all is said and done.
Update: Semifinal record - 3-2-1, 9 gf, 6 ga, 10 pts: More was expected from Mexico. Their giant status subsided long ago but now they struggle to justify being a strong team. Mexico won three home games but only one was a convincing victory. Had Mexico not come from behind in Edmonton to rescue a point from their game against Canada, El Tri may very well have been knocked out of World Cup qualifying.
Outlook: Something's amiss with Mexico. Coaching is not the problem. Lack of starpower is. Even though he's old and slow, this team is screaming for Cuauhtemoc Blanco to come back and save the day once more. Blanco has done well to maintain a high level of play in MLS and his prior accomplishments speak for themselves. Blanco would be a welcomed addition to El Tri. Still, Blanco or not this team has issues. And the top two nations entering the Hex will be the US and Costa Rica.
Update: Semifinal record - 6-0-0, 20 gf, 3 ga, 18 pts. Once Costa Rica was drawn with three relative lightweights, Tico eyes grew large. After the semifinal phase, the Costa Ricans did not disappoint. Costa Rica did what needed to be done and beat teams they needed to beat. Costa Rica dominated their group and scored 20 goals in six games.
Outlook: Costa Rica has advanced to the previous two World Cup finals with several strong performances. The Ticos have gone through without having beaten Mexico in Costa Rica or the United States on American soil. Costa Rica needs to show more consistency at home but that's nitpicking. Costa Rica need only live up to their billing in order to succeed in the Hex.
Update: Semifinal record - 3-2-1, 11 gf, 4 ga, 10 pts. The single-greatest beneficiary of the draw, El Salvador did not beat Costa Rica but went 3-0-1 in their other four games. That the other teams were weaklings Haiti and Suriname mattered little to El Salvador. The Central American nation has not reached this stage since 1997.
Outlook: Likely most pundits' choice to finish sixth out of six, El Salvador faces long odds of finishing among the top three. All five other teams will circle their home dates against El Salvador and count those as expected victories and it will be up to los Cuzcatlecos to show otherwise.