The moment of truth has arrived for the Guatemala national team and Los Angeles Galaxy striker Carlos Ruiz, who on Wednesday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama will face the first of 10 obstacles in his country's path to a first-ever qualification for a FIFA World Cup finals.
"We're confident in taking our first three points of the qualifiers in this game, we have prepared well and now we must play our best football in order to defeat a difficult rival," Ruiz said just before boarding a flight along with his teammates which took them from the Guatemalan capital to Panama on Tuesday.
In the first two elimination stages in CONCACAF qualifying for Germany 2006, Ruiz scored six of his country's 11 goals -- coming against Suriname, Honduras and Canada -- and the Galaxy striker is one of the main reason's for the presence of the side directed by Honduran coach Ramón Maradiaga in the final six-team battle for the region's World Cup places.
Ruiz said the pressure to win the match is all on Panama, above all because "they are playing at home and they have to win. We are going [there] with the idea of victory and we could ourselves being helped by that."
In addition, the 25-year-old forward downplayed the importance of the recent return of ex-Colorado Rapids striker Jorge Dely Valdés to the Panamanian ranks, indicating "that's their concern. Panama didn't need him to qualify to the hexagonal and we'll see how that goes now that he's returned."
Guatemala is also expected to count upon two players in their starting lineup who have been reported to be on their way to MLS teams in the near future -- Fredy Thompson (Columbus Crew) and Guillermo Ramirez (Los Angeles Galaxy). Peter Prendergast of Jamaica will be the referee.
Fernando Ruiz is a reporter for Al Día newspaper in Guatemala.