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North America's 2014 Brazil World Cup qualifying hexagonal round robin moves beyond the halfway mark Tuesday with only one point separating four of the six teams ahead of three key matches.
Pace-setter Costa Rica visits unbeaten Mexico while the United States will entertain undefeated Panama and winless Jamaica travels to Honduras with each of them needing a victory to boost their sagging hopes of reaching Brazil.
The Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) sends the top three teams to Brazil. The fourth-placed team will face New Zealand to decide another spot in the global football showcase.
The Costa Ricans top the table at 2-1-1 for seven points and a plus-two goal difference while the US squad has the same record and points but only a plus-one goal difference.
Mexico also stands on seven points but El Tricolores have played an extra match, winning 1-0 last Tuesday at Jamaica in a match moved forward two weeks to ease the Mexican's schedule ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
That gives Mexico a win and four draws for seven points, trailing the rival American side on most goals 4-3 but with the US squad having a match in hand.
Panama, something of a surprise with a win and three draws, is next on six points with US coach Jurgen Klinsmann wary of a side that has drawn Mexico and Costa Rica.
"Panama will be very difficult," Klinsmann said. "We'll need big support from the fans and total commitment in every one of these games.
"Our team is good enough and has enough quality to qualify for the World Cup but we have to be ready for the battle, ready for different circumstances and places."
That has been an emphasis for Klinsmann, who has stressed competition for every position and pushed players to leave behind their comfort zones.
It worked at Jamaica, when the Reggae Boyz equalized late only to have unlikely hero Brad Evans find the back of the net in stoppage time for the winning goal in a 2-1 triumph that delivered a huge boost to American hopes.
"It's important that this team gets the mentality to bounce back and to challenge themselves to win and not look for a tie," Klinsmann said.
"We've said from the beginning we are ready to come into difficult places and want three points so this is obviously a big plus for us."
Honduras, at 1-2-1 for four points, and Jamaica on 0-3-2 for two need all the points possible to mount a threat. The Hondurans have already beaten the US team and drawn with Mexico in home matches, leaving tough road trips to come.
On June 18, Honduras will visit the United States and Panama travels to Costa Rica in a rematch of a 2-2 draw earlier in qualifying. After that, there are no qualifying matches until September.