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Mexico, U.S. taking different routes to 2010 World Cup

While a victory over El Salvador is regarded as a foregone conclusion for the Mexicans, the Americans must overcome a Honduran team that at home is undefeated and has outscored opponents, 22-3.

October 10, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

Rafael Marquez and Charlie Davies are as different as chalk and cheese.

One is a veteran Mexican defender who plays in Spain for European champion FC Barcelona. The other is a young American forward who plays in France for considerably less distinguished FC Sochaux.

But today, if things go well for their respective national teams, Marquez and Davies can look forward to playing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next year.

To get there, Marquez and Mexico have only to defeat El Salvador at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City today (3 p.m., Telemundo). A Mexico victory is regarded as a foregone conclusion outside of El Salvador.

For Davies and the U.S., the task is more complicated. They will have to overcome Honduras on the road today in San Pedro Sula, where the home team is 8-0-0 and has outscored opponents, 22-3, during the 2010 qualifying campaign.

That has not stopped Davies, 23, from making a prediction that, all things considered, was best left unspoken.

"By beating Spain in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup [in June] and by narrowly losing to Brazil in the final, we showed we can do something global," Davies told L'Equipe in France. "With the players we have, if things go well, we can win the World Cup."

Bob Bradley, the U.S. soccer coach, has no doubt had a quiet word with Davies since that rash prediction and has perhaps told him that actually getting to the World Cup might be a good idea before talking about winning it.

The U.S., in fact, would be fortunate to escape San Pedro Sula with a tie, let alone a victory. Its best chance of clinching a place in South Africa will come when it plays Costa Rica in Washington next Wednesday night.

"Charlie continues to grow and mature as a player," Bradley admitted.

Then came Friday, and, lo and behold, Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, said exactly the same thing as Davies.

"It's not an American arrogance that we think we can win it," Gulati told the Associated Press in London. "It's a confidence of: 'Why would we play if we didn't have a shot?' If I had a coach saying we had no chance of winning it, why would you have him as coach? I'm being deadly serious. Why would we bother going if we didn't think we could win it?"

Marquez, meanwhile, is simply looking forward to playing in his third World Cup. Only a few months ago, that looked like a remote possibility, given Mexico's feeble start under coach Sven-Goran Eriksson before the Swede was replaced by Javier Aguirre.

Even the players feared that Mexico would fail.

"We all doubted, but Javier's arrival has changed the direction of everything," Marquez said this week. "We trust in his work and we must try to carry it through."

Since Aguirre took over in April, Mexico has won four of its five qualifying games, losing only the first, to El Salvador in San Salvador in June.

That 2-1 loss, during which Salvadoran fans poked fun at Mexico's swine flu outbreak by wearing surgical masks and hacking and coughing, is expected to be avenged today. "We have to win, no matter what," Aguirre said.

The U.S., meanwhile, has three ways of securing its place in South Africa tonight. It will do so if it wins, if it ties and Costa Rica also ties its home match against Trinidad and Tobago (7 p.m., GOL TV), or if Costa Rica loses.

Anything else and it will come down to the finale in Washington on Wednesday.

The Costa Ricans are not giving up. "South Africa 2010 is still a good possibility for us," said Rene Simoes, who last month was named the coach after the Ticos, once in first place, lost four qualifying games in a row.

The U.S., unbeaten at home in qualifying, has a less-impressive 1-2-1 record on the road in this round, having already lost at Costa Rica and Mexico. Playing in Honduras will be just as problematic.

Making matters doubly frustrating for American fans, the game will be shown only on closed-circuit TV in the U.S.

--

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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