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INTERNATIONAL SOCCER

February 6, 2013
WHAT A WILD OPENING DAY
Honduras alone in 1st place in CONCACAF; Mexico held at home by Jamaica, Costa Rica ties at Panama


What a wild first day of the CONCACAF hexagonal.

Who would have predicted that Honduras would be alone in first place after defeating the United States, 2-1, in World Cup qualifying in San Pedro Sula, Honduras?

Who would have known that Jamaica would walk out of Azteca Stadium with a well-deserved point after playing favored Mexico to a scoreless draw in Mexico City?

Who would have thought that unfancied Costa Rica would rally from a two-goal deficit and connect on the equalizing goal in the 84th minute at Panama?

And who would have predicted the United States would be in last place in the six-team group?

By the time the dust cleared, Los Catrachos were atop the CONCACAF heap with a 1-0-0 record and three points.

They were followed by four teams -- Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica and Mexico -- with 0-0-1 records and one point apiece.

The U.S. is in last place with a 0-1-0 mark and no points.

Mexico 0, Jamaica 0

The Reggae Boyz celebrated the 68th birthday of the late reggae singer Bob Marley the best way possible: by feeling like winners after playing to a stunning scoreless tie in the start of the CONCACAF hexagonal at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

How confident were Mexico’s fans that their El Tri would secure an easy win over Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier?

Azteca Stadium was nowhere near to be filled.

Well, the Mexicans, ranked 14th in the world in the FIFA rankings, had to leave the stadium with their confidence staggered after their disappointing performance, even though they extended their home WCQ unbeaten streak to 25 games.

An inspired Jamaican side, on the other hand, probably walked out with a little swagger as they never ran out of gas and managed to hold Mexico to a scoreless draw at what is considered the most difficult of all CONCACAF venues for a visitor to secure a result.

In fact, El Tri has failed to earn a victory in only seven of 75 WC qualifiers here through the years. Wednesday night was No. 7; the Mexicans are an astounding 68-1-6 in qualifiers at Azteca (Costa Rica has the lone win).

Jamaica international goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who plies his trade for the Portland Timbers (Major League Soccer), was star for the Reggae Boyz, making three vital saves, including a pair on Javier Hernandez to deny the hosts.

The Mexicans enjoyed a substantial first-half territorial advantage, but the Jamaicans had the better chances.

The hosts held ball possession 71 percent of the time and outshot Jamaica, 10-3. But many of their attempts were from far range and wound up either over or wide of the net.

The Reggae Boyz had a golden opportunity to stun Mexico in the eighth minute.

Jobi McAnuff slammed a shot off the left post as goalkeeper Jose Corona dived to his right for the ball. As Corona scrambled to get to his feet, McAnuff found himself with the ball, six yards out from point-blank range. McAnuff, however, got of a weak shot that went directly to Corona, who knocked the ball away.

At halftime, Mexican coach Jose de la Torre pulled Giovani dos Santos, who had trouble communicating with Hernandez up front, in favor of Javier Aquino.

It certainly did not hurt as Hector Herrera powered a 19-yard shot that forced Ricketts to make a diving save near the right post in the 48th minute.

Ricketts came up big again for the Boyz in the 65th minute as he denied Chicharito from maybe three yards out.

A minute later, Hernandez found himself on the ground after apparently hurting his head on a header. He was slow to get up, but continued playing.

Two minutes later, Portland forward Ryan Johnson had a great chance of putting Jamaica ahead as he raced past Carlos Salcido and went in one-on-one on Corona, but sent a rather weak shot right to Corona.

Ricketts denied Chicharito again two minutes in stoppage time as the keeper came out of the net to close down the angle of the advancing Mexican striker.

Next up for Mexico is a March 22 meeting at Honduras, while the Jamaicans host Panama.

Panama 2, Costa Rica 2

Picked by many experts to finish at or near the bottom of the CONCACAF hexagonal, Costa Rica pulled off the first big upset of the final round in Panama City, Panama.

The Ticos overcame a 2-0 first-half deficit to register a 2-2 draw with favored Panama at Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

Fulham standout Bryan Ruiz scored in the 84th minute to pull the Costa Ricans even with Los Canaleros.

Both teams started their run to Brazil 2014 with a point, a good one for the visitors, bad one for the hosts.

Los Canaleros bolted to a two-goal advantage by the half hour.

Luis Henriguez struck first in the 16th minute and Roman Torres doubled the lead some 11 minutes later.

Real Salt Lake striker Alvaro Saborio, however, sliced the lead in half with a goal in the 40th minute for a 2-1 halftime score.

Panama next visits Jamaica on March 22, while Costa Rica travels to the U.S. on the same date.

 
 
 
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