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Guatemala plans to host U.S. qualifier in distant location.

By Robert Wagman
and Morgan Perkins (in Guatemala City)

(Sunday, July 2, 2000) -- The Guatemalan Soccer Federation has informed CONCACAF and the United States it intends to play its July 16 home World Cup qualifier against the U.S. in a small city some distance from the capital.

Pending final approval by world governing body FIFA, via CONCACAF, the confederation on North America, Central America and the Caribbean, the noon match will be played in Mazatenango, a difficult three-hour drive from of Guatemala City. According to reports in the local press, FIFA has inspected the site and given preliminary approval pending some minor changes.

Mazatenango, "Land of the Deer" in the local dialect, is on the Pacific coastal plain about150 miles west of Guatemala City. The coastal plain is significantly warmer and more humid than the rest of the country. But while Mazatenango is hotter than the rest of Guatemala, it is not hotter than South Florida in July, nor hotter than the Washington, D.C., area where the U.S. will host Guatemala in early September. Moreover, Mazatenango is at a lower altitude than Guatemala City, and the hosts will be giving up some advantage that altitude might give them.

The location, however, will be inconvenient for the U.S. National team coach Bruce Arena had hoped to fly in the afternoon before the match, train at the national stadium -- where it was assumed the match would be played -- have dinner at the hotel, get up, play and then return to the U.S. training camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Now it will be significantly more difficult. There is only one two-lane road between the capital and Mazatenango. While on a good day the drive is a difficult three hours, with match day traffic, it could easily take five hours or longer. There are hotels in Mazatenango, but they are not nearly the quality that are available in Guatemala City.

The stadium in Mazatenango is a first-division stadium, in a fairly affluent semi-rural area, and is used in the Guatemala professional league.

Reportedly, the Guatemalans want to play their remaining two semifinal group qualifers, against Costa Rica and Barbados, at altitude either in the city of Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela), or in San Marcos. Both are highland cities up towards the Mexican border. Either site would be even more difficult than Mazatenango to reach, and would be at about 9,000 feet above sea level or about 3,500 feet higher Guatemala City.

Quetzaltenango is Guatemala's second largest city and has a modern stadium.

Guatemala will need permission from CONCACAF to stage the qualifers in these locations. An interesting question is what effect it might have on the planned U.S. television coverage -- whether ESPN get a satellite linkup out of Mazatenango.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com

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