San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica play Panama, Guatemala in UNCAF

The Costa Rican national men´s soccer team, La Sele, will kick off against Panama Friday, and will play Guatemala on Sunday, in their two first-round games of the Central American Soccer Union (UNCAF) tournament.

Honduras, ranked 40th internationally by FIFA, are the favorites to win, especially after their 2-0 victory over 30th-ranked Chile. La Sele, though, have a good shot at the title as reigning and six-time tournament champions. They also shot up six spots in the most recent FIFA rankings to No. 47, up from 79, a 10-year nadir, last July.

UNCAF, hosted by Honduras in the capital Tegucigalpa, will be an important preview for the World Cup hexagonal qualifier, in which Costa Rica, El Salvador and the hosts will battle Mexico, the U.S. and Trinidad & Tobago for three berths to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The tournament opened Thursday, and the final will be played on Feb. 1.

Costa Rica will then host Honduras at Ricardo Saprissa Stadium in Tibás, north of San José, on Feb. 11 in their much-anticipated hexagonal round opener. The teams are evenly matched historically: Costa Rica has beaten Honduras in 16 games, lost to them in 14 and tied them 13 times.

Also, the U.S. host Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, and El Salvador host Trinidad & Tobago the same day.

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