Guatemala 2, El Salvador 0

El Salvador's national soccer squad has grown accustomed to warm welcomes in Washington, where tens of thousands of expatriates have settled. But last night at RFK Stadium, which has served as a second home for Salvadoran teams of all types the last few years, its boisterous fans were neutralized by a deafening assembly of Guatemalan backers.

Both sides had plenty to get excited about in this World Cup qualifying tuneup, but Guatemala exerted its strength in the second half and pulled away for a 2-0 victory. Guillermo Ramirez scored on a long strike in the 50th minute and reserve Jose Mendoza padded the lead in the 72nd.

No official attendance was announced, but it appeared to approach 20,000 -- a majority of whom were supporting the Chapines, as Guatemala's team is affectionately known.

Both teams are preparing for the semifinal round of 2006 World Cup qualifying, which will begin on Aug. 18 with 12 teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean broken into three round-robin groups.

"I'm very happy about our tactical approach, and the way we played," Guatemala Coach Ramon Maradiaga said. "We are looking forward to qualifying but there is still work to do."

Guatemala was drawn into the most difficult quartet with Costa Rica, Honduras and Canada, while the Salvadorans will be severe underdogs while facing the United States, Jamaica and Panama. The top two teams in each group will advance to next year's final round. The United States and Jamaica had scouts at RFK.

El Salvador, preparing for its home qualifier vs. Panama in less than two weeks, was desperate for a good performance following a 4-0 exhibition loss to Honduras in San Salvador this week. Guatemala, which defeated El Salvador, 1-0, in Los Angeles last month, is gearing up for a road qualifier against Canada.

The Chapines nearly went ahead in the 25th minute, but Nestor Martinez's ball from the right side took a deflection and glanced off the crossbar before bouncing close to the left post. Five minutes later it was El Salvador's turn, but Jose Martinez's low bid was slapped away by fully extended goalkeeper Ricardo Trigueno.

Then just before intermission, Salvadoran keeper Santos Rivera made two superb saves. Star forward Carlos Ruiz, who will rejoin the Los Angeles Galaxy for Sunday's MLS game against New York/New Jersey at Giants Stadium, slipped behind the defense, but had his shot stuffed by Rivera. Teammate Mario Rodriguez should've deposited the rebound, but Rivera blocked that one, too.

Rivera was at it again early in the second half, sprawling to his right to deny Mendoza's bid. Dwight Pezzarossi sent the rebound over a wide-open net.

But in the 50th minute, Rivera made his first mistake, failing to properly handle Ramirez's dipping 30-yard strike and letting it trickle under him and over the goal line. Later, Pezzarossi set up Mendoza for a composed chip over the charging Rivera.