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SOCCER

A win would put U.S. close to clinching World Cup berth

Americans face Trinidad and Tobago, with thoughts of going beyond qualifying, and trying to win the group for 2010 tournament in South Africa.

September 09, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

So, is the U.S. in soccer's World Cup next year in South Africa? Is it all over but the shouting?

"No, I don't think we're in yet," U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber said Saturday night, after playing a pivotal role in helping the U.S. defeat El Salvador, 2-1, in Sandy, Utah. "Obviously, it's a huge three points for us. I think we needed to get this win, and we did. Trinidad is the next game, and if we can get three points there we'll be a little bit closer."

The U.S.-Trinidad and Tobago game is today (3:30 p.m., ESPN Classic), and a U.S. victory in Port of Spain would all but clinch a place in South Africa 2010 for the Americans.

If El Salvador loses at home in San Salvador today against Costa Rica, the U.S. will have secured, at the very least, a playoff spot because it would be guaranteed finishing no lower than fourth in its six-nation qualifying group.

The top three nations go to South Africa, and the fourth-place team goes into a playoff for a spot in the World Cup against a South American side.

"We want to go as high as we can," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "We don't want to stop at just qualifying. We want to try to win the group."

Trinidad and Tobago, which was trounced, 4-1, at Honduras on Saturday, is all but mathematically eliminated from the World Cup, but U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard is unsure how that will affect the Soca Warriors' play tonight.

"You wonder how their crowd is going to react to them. Do they get on their back? Do they give them a lift? It's tough to say," Howard said.

"The best thing for us is to go down there with a focus and the right mind-set and then see how the game goes. If they lay down, well, OK then, great. If they don't, then we're still in for a battle, and that's what we should go down there expecting."

The U.S. defeated Trinidad and Tobago, 3-0, in Nashville on April 1 behind a Jozy Altidore hat trick and should not be overly troubled in Port of Spain. The return of starting American defender Oguchi Onyewu (from suspension) should help.

Right now, the lead in the qualifying group belongs to Honduras, which plays Mexico at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City tonight (5 p.m., Telemundo), but only one point separates the top four teams.

Mexico, its fortunes revived under Coach Javier Aguirre, is unlikely to lose at home, meaning that the U.S. can leapfrog Honduras and move into first place with a victory.

"There's no tomorrow," Aguirre said. "There are four teams fighting for three tickets."

The three regional matches are among 35 qualifying games being played worldwide today, and the World Cup 2010 field could grow by as many as seven teams.

* England will qualify if it ties or defeats Croatia in London.

* Serbia will qualify if it defeats 2000 World Cup winner and 2006 runner-up France in Belgrade.

* Spain will qualify if it defeats Estonia in Merida, Spain, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, playing at home, fails to defeat Turkey in Zenica.

* Denmark will qualify if it defeats Albania on the road in Tirana, Hungary loses at home to Portugal in Budapest and Malta beats or ties Sweden at home in Ta'Qali.

* Slovakia will qualify if it defeats Northern Ireland in Belfast and Slovenia and Poland tie in Maribor, Slovenia.

* Chile will qualify if it defeats Brazil on the road in Salvador de Bahia, or if Colombia and Ecuador both fail to win their matches.

* Paraguay will qualify if it defeats Argentina in Asuncion, Paraguay, or if Colombia and Ecuador both fail to win their matches.

Eight nations have qualified for the 32-team quadrennial world championship, but there are a few big names in real trouble, notably former World Cup winners Argentina, France and Uruguay, as well as Portugal.

"This won't break me," Argentina Coach Diego Maradona said after Saturday's 3-1 home loss to Brazil. A loss in Paraguay today, however, might be the last straw.

France's only hope appears to be through the playoffs, but striker Thierry Henry said that was OK.

"Since I've been in the French team, we've often got in through the back door," Henry said. "Whatever happens, we have to get to South Africa."

Portugal Coach Carlos Queiroz is crossing his fingers.

"We have to raise our heads and keep believing," he said. "The game is not over, and while it lasts, we have to believe."

--

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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