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Jack Huckel


TANGENTS

Before The “Hex” Came A “Penta” And It Turned The USA’s World Cup Fortunes Around

Written by on January 22, 2013 | No Comments »
Posted in United States, World Cups

The CONCACAF Men’s World Cup Qualifying over the past four tournaments has been the story of the “Hex” or the Hexagonal – a final-round six-team competition for the CONCACAF berths in the World Cup. The Hex for Brazil 2014 begins this February 6 with the U.S. visiting Honduras, Costa Rica at Panama, and Mexico hosting Jamaica.

In CONCACAF World Cup qualifying history, however, the Hex is a relatively recent innovation. The first Hex-like tournament was not really a Hex but a “Penta,” a five-team tournament played for the 1990 Italy World Cup and it was eventful in several ways.

Perhaps the most incredible circumstance was who was not in that tournament – Mexico. Having been found to have played overage players in an age-group FIFA competition, El Tri was banned. Without Mexico in the grouping, the path to securing one of the two qualifying positions was suddenly easier for the five teams: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, and the United States.

While essentially the same as today’s Hex – a home and home round robin – the tournament was not organized in the same manner. Instead of playing a full round against all opponents before meeting teams for a second time, the 1989 Penta, for example, had Costa Rica and Guatemala complete their play on the first two match dates and Costa Rica played the first four dates, also completing its games against the U.S. Interestingly, Costa Rica had completed all its matches by the 10th of 18 total matches, while T&T still had five matches left and the USA four.

And Costa Rica set the bar for qualification with its five wins and one draw for eleven points. Its plus 4 goal difference was also an important marker as the rest of the group pushed for qualification. At the beginning of September with five matches left the group standings looked like this:

 

The“Penta”

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Goals For

Goals Against

Points

Costa Rica

8

5

1

2

10

6

11

T&T

6

2

3

1

5

3

7

USA

4

2

1

1

4

3

5

Guatemala

4

1

0

3

3

5

2

El Salvador

2

0

1

3

2

7

1

Note: In 1989 wins were 2 points.

The two matches in September saw wins for the U.S. and T&T, further distancing both from Guatemala and El Salvador. The U.S. with its seven points looked in good position to qualify, with matches at Guatemala and home to El Salvador in October that could put it at 9 points, the same as T&T, with a match at T&T left, where a tie would be good enough to go through.

But, as fate would have it, the U.S. fought tight battles with the two bottom teams, finishing both as 0-0 draws. Consequently, they came into the final match with seven points. Suddenly the match at “The Office,” as T&T’s national stadium is nicknamed, turned into even more of a do-or-die match – win or go home, forget about Italy and, maybe, about hosting the 1994 FIFA World Cup!

Of course, many reading this column will remember Paul Caligiuri’s goal, a dipping half-volley from 30 yards that found the lower left corner of the net, and the 60+ minutes of hectic action that followed in a raucous stadium prepared to celebrate T&T’s first World Cup qualification. With no further scoring, when it was all over, the U.S., for the first time since 1950, had qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

Team

Played

Won

Draw

Lost

Goals For

Goals Against

Points

Costa Rica

8

5

1

2

10

6

11

USA

8

4

3

1

6

3

11

Trinidad and Tobago

8

3

3

2

7

5

9

Guatemala

6

1

1

4

4

7

3

El Salvador

6

0

2

4

2

8

2


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