Guatemala Gains a Shot Of Confidence for U.S.

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 7, 2008

Two weeks before the United States will face Guatemala in the semifinal qualifying stage for the 2010 World Cup, the Guatemalans were kind enough to play a friendly at RFK Stadium last night before a festive audience of 15,000 that included U.S. scouts.

Midway through the second half of Guatemala's 3-0 victory over Bolivia, it became abundantly clear who the Americans will have to monitor Aug. 20 in Guatemala City: midfielder Mario Rodriguez, a former Columbus Crew winger who had a goal and two assists in a 13-minute stretch of the second half.

"I don't know how to interpret it; all I know is that we played very well and hopefully we can keep it up because the most important game is against the United States," Guatemala Coach Ramon Maradiaga said through an interpreter. "We are optimistic because we are playing better now."

Guatemala has never qualified for the World Cup and its chances of earning a ticket to South Africa in two years are modest at best. But this second-half performance was a clear confidence booster heading into the match against the Americans, the first of six games for Guatemala in its four-nation group.

Veterans Dwight Pezzarossi and Guillermo Ramirez scored the first two goals before Rodriguez capped the stirring victory in front of a flag-waving crowd that seemed to favor Guatemala by a slight margin.

D.C. United's Jaime Moreno played 67 minutes and served as captain for Bolivia, which is preparing for South American qualifiers next month at Ecuador and Brazil.

Guatemala was closer to full strength than Bolivia -- both teams were missing regulars because of club commitments -- but the absence of all-time leading scorer Carlos Ruiz hindered its early effort. The Chapines, as the national team is known, lacked a menacing quality around the penalty area and had no one to complement Rodriguez's industrious work on the right flank.

There were no such problems in the second half.

In the 52nd minute, two Bolivian defenders failed to disrupt Rodriguez's cross, allowing Pezzarossi to settle the ball and place a 12-yard shot into the lower right corner. Rodriguez was at it again five minutes later, this time with a corner kick. Ramirez beat Moreno and Jaime Robles and tucked an off-balance eight-yard header into the right corner.

Then in the 65th minute, Rodriguez chested down a long ball, blazed past Luis Gutierrez and fired a 10-yard shot into the far side.

"For us, it's definitely a big disappointment because we had a lot of hope," said Moreno, 34, who represented Bolivia in the 1994 World Cup. "We need to regroup before the qualifiers."

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