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CONCACAF begins low-profile regional qualifying for soccer's World Cup
By Brian Trusdell, The Associated Press
Feb 5, 2008 - 1:56:01 PM

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NEW YORK - While the rest of the world's major teams partake in friendlies on Wednesday, CONCACAF will get its World Cup qualifying underway with a series of first-round matches among the region's smallest countries.

The campaign began Saturday with Bermuda being held to a 1-1 draw at home by the Cayman Islands. Six more games are set for Wednesday involving nine Caribbean sides and three Central American teams.

In all, 11 teams will advance to another round of two-leg matches, where the region's perennial powers - Mexico and the United States - join the fray in June. From that, 12 teams will emerge that will enter the group phase. Canada plays its first game June 15 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Except locally, most matches will get little attention with South American powers Brazil and Argentina and European counterparts Germany, Italy, Spain and England engaged in friendlies. Within the region, Mexico faces the United States in Houston in what has become an annual grudge match.

El Salvador, which qualified for the World Cup in 1970 and 1982, is the biggest fish of the minnows required to fight their way out of the opening round. It hosts 198th-ranked Anguilla in San Salvador and begins as a prohibitive favourite.

"Anguilla might be an easy team, but we can't be overconfident," El Salvador coach Carlos de los Cobos said.

The winner of the two-leg series advances to play Central American championship runner-up Panama, which was eliminated from last year's Gold Cup by the United States in the quarter-finals. Honduras also reached the Gold Cup quarter-finals before being beaten by Guadeloupe.

Other matches Wednesday include: Aruba vs. Antigua and Barbuda; Dominica vs. Barbados; Turks and Caicos vs. St. Lucia; Nicaragua vs. Netherlands Antilles; and Belize vs. St. Kitts & Nevis in Guatemala City.

Three series will be decided by one match on March 26: Puerto Rico vs. Dominican Republic; Grenada vs. U.S. Virgin Islands; and Montserrat vs. Suriname. The Dominica-Barbados winner advances to face the United States while the survivor from Belize-St. Kitts gets Mexico.

Associated Press writers Juan Zamorano in Panama City, Panama, and Diego Mendez in San Salvador, El Salvador, contributed to this report.

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