By Simon Evans
NEW YORK, Sept 5 (Reuters) - The United States take on Costa Rica on Friday when the top two in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying come face to face with both teams knowing their tickets to next year's finals in Brazil are within touching distance.
Juergen Klinsmann's U.S. team have won their last 12 games, most recently coming from two goals behind to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-3 in impressive fashion in a friendly in Sarajevo.
The winning streak includes the run to the Gold Cup title in July during which they beat Costa Rica 1-0 in East Hartford.
But the Americans have never won a qualifier in Costa Rica and the game has added spice following the controversial March encounter between the teams in Denver, Colorado.
That match was played in a blizzard with the field covered in snow throughout the second half and, after the Americans ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a Clint Dempsey goal, furious Costa Rica officials complained to FIFA with their coach Jorge Luis Pinto describing the game as "an embarrassment to football".
Media reports suggest the Americans have been given a frosty reception in Costa Rica and there will be a hostile atmosphere awaiting them at the National Stadium in San Jose on Friday.
"The fans have a lot of passion. It seems they have a lot of hard feelings from the last game in the U.S., and they are really amped for Friday night," said American midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
The United States are top of the qualifying group on 13 points from six games with Costa Rica two points behind and Mexico on eight points, Honduras seven and Panama six with Jamaica propping up the standings after two draws.
Four days after the Costa Rica clash, the U.S. host rivals Mexico in Columbus, Ohio and four points from those games could see Klinsmann's team qualify with two matches to spare, although they may get through with fewer if other results go their way.
Traditionally, the Americans have looked for draws away and wins at home but there is a positive and confident mood in Klinsmann's camp.
"I don't think I've ever felt as confident about getting a result on one of these trips," said forward Landon Donovan, who was the Gold Cup's joint-top scorer with five goals, is back for what will be his first qualifier in over a year.
"We need to go in with the mindset that we absolutely can win this game, and that has to be the mentality," he said.
"If we carry that energy and that belief on to the field Friday night, everyone is going to sense it on both teams and we have a real chance to do something special."
Mexico started the campaign as favourites to top the group but, while unbeaten, have picked up just one win and five draws.
Honduras's visit to the Azteca Stadium on Friday is thus a must-win game for Jose Manuel de la Torre's team, who will be looking over their shoulders at Panama's impressive rise.
Panama are at home to Jamaica, who have appointed Winfried Schaefer in a last-ditch attempt to turn around their campaign.
"It is a make-or-break fixture. We daren't lose that one," said Jamaica's new German coach. "At the moment, we have maybe a 30 percent chance of making it to Brazil. If we beat Panama, that might become a 60 percent chance," . (Reporting by Simon Evans, Editing by Ken Ferris)
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