The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil may be a rather distant reality, but Friday's fixtures have huge ramifications with multiple marquee matchups in store.
Each of the three groups in the CONCACAF confederation will be fighting to establish position in pool play to slide inside the top two in the standings. Some squads may seal their fate with a poor performance Friday, as there is still one more set of matches to come on Tuesday.
Here is a look at the slate for Friday's most important showdowns.
Group A: Guatemala vs. Jamaica
After splitting its matches with the USA, Jamaica is looking to beat Guatemala for the second time in a row.
Demar Phillips and Ryan Johnson put goals on the board at the 41' and 46' marks, respectively, in the squad's 2-1 victory on June 8. A goal by Guatemala in extra time proved rather inconsequential.
Goalkeeper Dwayne Miller has filled in the starting role rather nicely since Donovan Ricketts' exit in the first Guatemala qualifying match. Miller keyed the first-ever Jamaican victory over the U.S. The only goals he has allowed were in extra time to Guatemala, and a free kick by Herculez Gomez in the team's 1-0 loss to USA.
Guatemala must capitalize on its scoring chances and force shots on net to test Miller early.
In the friendly confines of Estadio Mateo Flores, the Guatemalans should be able to generate early momentum. Drawing first blood will be crucial, as both teams are tied at the top with the USA, notching seven points in Group A play.
Group B: El Salvador vs. Costa Rica
Mexico has been dominating this pool, but El Salvador and Costa Rica have registered five and four points, respectively. It's crucial that El Salvador grabs three points with a victory in this one, because Tuesday's fixture is against the Mexican national team.
At the same time, Costa Rica will be in the driver's seat to advance to the next round if it can notch a victory Friday. It takes on Guyana in the final match of the third round, which it beat 4-0 the last time around.
Rodolfo Zelaya is second in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with four goals. Without his presence in the lineup, though, El Salvador may be similarly lacking in its attack to Costa Rica, which hasn't been able to muster anything offensively.
Costa Rica has not scored a goal in its past three matches. While the club still has the clear leverage for the No. 2 spot in the group, relying on a scoreless draw would not be wise.
Group C: Panama vs. Honduras
This is essentially a must-win for Honduras, which must negotiate Canada in a deciding match on Tuesday.
If Panama is able to emerge victorious, it will then face a hapless Cuba team which has failed to register a point in the pool. Those six points would allow the squad to easily finish inside the top two.
Having narrowly escaped Cuba in a 1-0 decision, Honduras isn't exactly riding a wave of momentum. Panama, meanwhile, has shut out four of its last five opponents thanks to the outstanding goaltending of Jaime Penedo.
Honduras should be playing desperate, but it faces a formidable challenge on the road against such a stellar defensive club.
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