The United States and Mexico took vital steps towards the World Cup finals after they defeated Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras respectively in the CONCACAF qualifying zone.
In Port of Spain, a long distance shot by Ricardo Clark gave the US team the solitary goal to beat rock-bottom Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 and lead the standings with two rounds to go.
The hosts needed a win to keep alive their qualifying chances, so they started the game full of energy and dominated the ball. Kenwyne Jones had the chance to open the scoring in the 27th minute with a header that American keeper Tim Howard saved, and two minutes later the woodwork stopped a Cornell Glen shot.
Bob Bradley's side also had their chances with counter-attacks, mainly through Jozy Altidore and Landon Donovan, but they reached half-time goalless.
After the break, the game looked more level until in the 63rd minute, a good play by Clint Dempsey and Donovan ended at Clark's feet, who beat keeper Clayton Ince from 30 metres.
''For us it was a very important three points. We felt that it was well earned because tonight was a difficult game,'' said Bradley. ''A lot of credit goes to Trinidad and Tobago; I felt they put a great effort out tonight and made it very hard. We spoke at half-time and we understood the game we were in. We felt we could raise the level in the second half and we're pleased with the win.''
After eight rounds, the USA lead the final round on 16 points, one above old enemies Mexico, who saw off former leaders Honduras 1-0 at home.
A 75th-minute penalty by veteran forward Cuauhtemoc Blanco placed Javier Aguirre's team very close to South Africa 2010 thanks to this win at the Estadio Azteca.
Honduras went down to third in the standings on 13 points, one more than Costa Rica, who suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat to El Salvador.
A last-gasp goal by Rudi Corrales gave the Salvadorans a crucial win as they are still hopeful of progressing to the World Cup. With six points remaining, they are four below play-off placed Costa Rica and five behind Honduras.