U.S. to open Hexagonal against Mexico
OHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The United States will open the final round of regional qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup at home against Mexico and finish its run against Costa Rica.
The other three teams in CONCACAF'S qualifying tournament, played between February and October, are El Salvador, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.
The top three advance to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and the No. 4 team meets South America's fifth-place nation in a home-and-home playoff for another berth.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley was upbeat after Saturday's draw. The low-key event was conducted a few hours ahead of FIFA's draw for next year's Confederations Cup, widely seen as a warmup to the World Cup.
"The expectation is always that the last round will be very competitive and certainly when you look at this schedule, opening at home with Mexico and finishing at home with Costa Rica, it's a good test."
The United States and Costa Rica had easy passage to the final qualifying round. Mexico, guided by former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, struggled on the road and gained its only points with a tie against lowly Canada.
"It's just the proof that all around the world qualifying is competitive," Bradley said. "Especially when you play games on the road, you take nothing for granted. We have a great deal of respect for Mexico. They have a very good team."
For the Confederations Cup, the U.S. was drawn with World Cup champion Italy, Brazil and Egypt in one group. European champion Spain joins New Zealand, Iraq and South Africa in the other.
Host South Africa, the lowest-seeded entry in the easier group, avoids Brazil and one of the two European teams. South Africa opens the two-week tournament against Iraq on June 14.
Bradley welcomed the chance to play in South Africa ahead of the World Cup despite being drawn in a difficult group. The U.S. defeated Mexico to advance to the Confederations Cup.
"It's a very strong group," Bradley said. "We know we will be tested a great deal but we are excited abut the prospect of playing these great teams."
The Iraqi team recently resumed training at home since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Iraq has not played a home game in nearly two decades because of wars and sanctions.
Since the invasion, the national squad has been training mostly in neighboring Jordan, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. But the team brought jubilation in the war-torn country by winning the Asian Cup last year.
"We now have to prove to all of you what we can do," said Jorvan Viera, the country's Brazilian coach.
South Africa will try to show its recent improvement is no fluke. After elimination from next year's African Cup, it has won its four most recent games.
"It is true that at the beginning we did have some turbulence," South Africa coach Joel Santana said. "But we believe we are on the right road."