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Guatemala: masters of gamesmanship and distraction

Jun 12, 2012, 1:00 PM EDT

Marco Pappa 3

U.S. Soccer players and staff, in quite moments, while still observing the statesman tenants of political correctness, will cautiously allow that no country has “gamesmanship” down like Guatemala.

They work in skillful dark arts of naughty distraction the way Spain works in passing, or the way Leo Messi works in “awesome.”

So they’ll step on toes. They’ll say naughty things. They’ll swing elbows of menace, quick and hard to detect. They’ll grab things that have absolutely no business being grabbed.

And that’s all empowered by that notorious backdrop of intimidating atmosphere.

The dubious deeds, at highest crank when playing at home in Guatemala City, are not just about distracting visitors from their night’s task; it’s also about baiting. Don’t think for a second that Guatemalan coaches haven’t circled U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones. He’s surely the most likely candidate to lose his mind out there, the odds-on choice to be undone by the sneaky and the naughty.

You may not like the dubious tactics of the underdog. I certainly don’t endorse them. But I do get it.

Guatemala wants desperately to accomplish the unthinkable, to nail down that elusive berth in the World Cup.

With a population of almost 14 million, it’s a little bigger than Honduras, a nation that did accomplish the highly implausible two years ago, putting itself with tremendous pride on the global soccer map with an appearance at World Cup 2010.

The Guatemalan people, among the poorest in Latin America, would benefit so handsomely just seeing their land arrive at a World Cup, being mentioned alongside the majestic likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, etc.  It’s lottery-like in this way; dreaming about it all is half the fun.

The players understand – and that understanding justifies the antics in their minds. They’ll want desperately to make this dream happen for themselves and for the impassioned supporters, who will fill the stadium by pre-game warm-up time, cheering for the point or points that will get their team just a little closer to Brazil 2014.

Guatemala has a chance to do so, too. Not a great one, but a chance. Soccer America tells you here about some of the men who matter for Guatemala.

Carlos Ruiz is a familiar name, and the longtime MLS can be at his pesky, infuriating best when wearing the national shirt. He won’t be in tip-top shape; at 32, Ruiz is currently between clubs. Then again, Ruiz has spent much of his career at less-than-full-fitness due to his out-and-about lifestyle – but his static, physical playing style means he doesn’t have to be supremely fit to be a big ol’ bother.

Marco Pappa (pictured), the Chicago Fire midfielder is a difference maker who can turn a match in an instant.

Veteran forward Dwight Pezzarossi will be targeting his 60th cap, and that experience will count against the Americans.

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