In 2007 the Gold Cup returns to an all-CONCACAF format for the first time since 1993. This change is long-overdue for a tournament that has a Confederations Cup place as the top prize. Despite the change, the 12 team format has been retained, making this the most open of the nine tournaments to date. Mexico and the US are still favorites but only four teams will go home after the first round and every team will fancy its chance of advancing in the knockout stages. Teams will be emboldened by the success of Panama and Honduras who advanced to the finals and semi-finals respectively in 2005.
Trinidad & Tobago
T&T will kick off the Gold Cup against El Salvador almost one year after the euphoria of a battling 0-0 draw against Sweden in the WC. That draw was the highlight of the World Cup and confirmation of the progress made by the Soca Warriors under Dutch coaching legend Leo Beenhakker. There is a saying however that goes “after joy comes sorrow” and the revelry of last June has been replaced by the despair of a tumultuous year of player disputes with the TTFF.
The Soca Warriors should have been going into the tournament with realistic ambitions of success but instead they will have probably the least experienced squad of all the Countries at the tournament. Unfortunately most of the senior players have been blacklisted by the TTFF for threatening legal action against them, and the promise of the young team that achieved qualification has been tempered by their eventual failure to win the Digicel Cup and subsequent losses to Panama, Costa Rica and Honduras, and a draw with Guadeloupe. Overall Trinidad and Tobago has only won one of its last six senior international games.
Despite the gloomy situation, there is some hope. The Gold Cup is a short tournament and getting past Guatemala and El Salvador to make the knockout stage is challenging but not impossible task for T&T. On the single occasion that the Warriors made it to the second round it was a 4-2 win over Guatemala in a must-win encounter that got them rolling. Also, in their last encounter in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad shattered Guatemala’s hopes of World Cup qualification with 2 late goals. T&T have not meet El Salvador since 1998 and they have not beaten El Salvador since the famed Italia ’90 qualification campaign, and their only Gold Cup meeting was a 2:3 loss in Anaheim in 1996. Despite this, the Soca Warriors will fancy its chances against the fourth-placed Central American team.
Trinidad and Tobago will also relish returning to California after going winless in the five games played in Miami in the 2002 and 2005 Gold Cups. However, considering the team’s recent fortunes, most fans will adopt a wait and see approach and remain guarded against disappointment.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO GOLD CUP™ TRIVIA
|Best finish||Tie for 3rd place (no match held) in 2000|
|Most tournament appearances||(5) Marvin Andrews (1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005)|
|Most appearances by a player||(12) Marvin Andrews|
|Most goals by a player||(4) Arnold Dwarika|
|First goal||Leonson Lewis vs USA on June 29, 1991|
|First victory||2-1 win over Costa Rica on July 1, 1991|
|Widest margin of victory||4-2, Guatemala (Feb 15, 2000), 3-1 Honduras (Feb 1, 1998)|
|Widest margin of defeat||0-4 Mexico (Feb 13, 2000)|
|Most goals scored in a match||4 vs Guatemala on February 15, 2000|
|Most goals conceded in a match||(4) vs Mexico on February 4, 1998 and February 13, 2000|
|Players in Team of Tournament||(2000) Arnold Dwarika, Russell Latapy, (2002) Shaka Hislop|
|Youngest player||Marvin Andrews - 20 yrs, 19 days vs El Salvador (01/10/96)|
|Oldest player||Shaka Hislop - 32 yrs, 334 days vs Martinique (01/22/2002)|
|Notable fact||Trinidad and Tobago has never kept a clean sheet in a Gold Cup match|
El Salvador returns to the Gold Cup after missing the 2005 edition, which was just as well since they failed to win a single game between September 2004 and February 2007, a dismal run that included the entire calendar years of 2005 and 2006. Although they have qualified for the Gold Cup as the fourth-placed Central American team they have only managed to beat Nicaragua and Belize and they are the weakest of the Central American representatives. Avoiding last place will be a major achievement for El Salvador and they will be hoping for Trinidad and Tobago or Guatemala to slip and allow them to sneak into 3rd place in the group.
The USA is under new management and the Gold Cup is a test of Bob Bradley’s credentials. Anything less than a win or an honorable loss to Mexico in the first tournament under Bradley will be a poor return . Whatever the failings of Bruce Arena at the World Cup level he did develop a team capable of dominating the Concacaf region. Bradley has made a good start as coach beating Mexico and Denmark but he remains a second choice after Klinsmann’s flirtation with the USSF. Although a win will not guarantee that a European coach will not brought in, a poor tournament will probably guarantee that one will.
On paper, the US is the tournament favourite. Their performance in Germany was not as good as 2002 but they have a legitimate gripe that they were in a very difficult group. They will have a full strength squad and they have lost only once at home in almost two years. Most importantly it has been 8 games since they last lost to Mexico on home soil. This is a run that they will be determined to extend this summer.
Guatemala has a dismal Gold Cup record, failing to advance beyond the first round in their last five appearances in the competition. They will consider this a favourable group, being partnered with the US, Trinidad and Tobago and El Salvador. They have no illusions about beating the US on US soil, but Trinidad and Tobago is not the team that edged them out of 4th place in the last Hex and Guatemala has owned El Salvaldor in recent meetings. The two teams meet frequently and in nine meetings since 2004 Guatemala is unbeaten. Guatemala also has a coach with World Cup pedigree, in the Colombian Hernan Dario Gomez and they will be looking to reach the quarterfinals or beyond to confirm that their program is making progress.
Costa Rica will be looking to avoid another Gold Cup failure. Despite qualifying for 3 World Cups and being well-established as the third best team in CONCACAF, Costa Rica has failed to match Mexico and The USA by achieving Gold Cup success. Their single runners-up spot puts them level with Honduras and Panama, and behind Canada, three teams that they have consistently been better than over the last 20 years. The goal on this occasion, as always, is to get past either of Mexico or the US to have a shot at the final. This time they are led by Hernan Medford, the Saprissa legend has led Costa Rica to its third straight Central American Championship en route to Gold Cup qualification.
Group A will hold no fears for Costa Rica and they will know that the 1st or 2nd placed team will most likely avoid Mexico. It has been 12 years since they have beaten the Americans on US soil but they are still the best bet outside of the big two to win the tournament.
Canada followed up their surprise success in the 200 Gold Cup with a third place finish in 2002. Other than that Canadian football has been a story of unfulfilled potential. Canada should do well this time around but like T&T their preparation is less than ideal. They have played only three games in a year, splitting games with a Jamaica side that failed to qualify for the Gold Cup. A win against Bermuda and a draw against Venezuela do not really offer any more answers about what to expect from the Canadians who will be led by interim coach Stephen Hart before he hands over the reins to current under-20 coach Dale Mitchell.
Canada has a huge pool of players spread as far as Norway and Denmark. Despite the quantity however, only Staltieri, De Guzman and Radzinski are established at big clubs. Any success Canada achieves will depend heavily on these three as well as De Rosario, one of the finest players in the MLS. If Hart, or his possible replacement, can get them playing, a semi-final beckons for the Canadians.
The Red Tide is coming off runners-up finishes in the 2005 Gold Cup and in the 2007 Central American championships. They will be looking for their young team to start delivering the goods with at least a semi-final place. Anything beyond that will be gravy for a team that has struggled in big games. The 2005 hexagonal World Cup preliminaries were a huge let-down for Panama who ended the final leg of the qualification without a win after impressing in the semi-final round. This time may be different as they beat Costa Rica in qualifying and only lost to the Ticos in a penalty shootout in the UNCAF final. They are in an open Group C and will feel that after Mexico they have the best chance of advancing from the group.
Guadeloupe is making its first ever appearance in the Gold Cup and this will be the biggest tournament in the history of the French department, which is not a member of FIFA. Guadeloupe’s recent run of success will probably come crashing to a halt, as each team will be keen to take all three points when they meet the Frenchmen. Anything other than three losses will be a success and a surprise.
Like Panama, Honduras sprung a few surprises to reach the semi-final in 2005. Their exit to the eventual winners, the USA, must still give them nightmares when one considers that they were four minutes away from a historic win over the US, before two late goals sunk them. They will be keen to show that 2005 was no fluke and once again they will rely on the excellence of David Suazo to beat out Panama and Cuba on the way to the quarterfinals. The speedy Suazo was recently voted as the best international player in Serie A and is arguably the best striker in the tournament. Honduras is, once again, paired with Panama and they have had the better of the Panamanians in recent meetings despite the fact that Panama has been more successful in regional competition.
Cuba has the unenviable task of trying to advance from Group C. Despite the improvement in Cuban football in recent years, which resulted in a quarter-final appearance in 2003, Cuba has still struggled against teams with well-established football programmes. They lost all of their games in the 2005 Gold Cup although, to be fair, they were grouped with the US, Costa Rica and Canada. This time Honduras and Panama will not be that much easier and they open their tournament against Mexico. Depending on how well they survive that test, the best the Cubans can hope for is to pip either Panama or Honduras for third place. It would be surprising if both of these teams falter against the Cubans who play well but have a tendency beat themselves when they play well-organized teams.
Haiti makes only their third appearance in the Gold Cup after winning the Digicel Cup beating Trinidad and Tobago in the final. They will be looking to match their last appearance and make it beyond the first round. This is a reasonable prospect as they will expect to beat their francophone cousins, Guadeloupe, and they were good enough to tie Costa Rica in a friendly in 2005. Canada will also need to be wary because Haiti is the kind of underdog that they have stumbled against in the past.
Haiti are also one of the best prepared teams in the tournament, playing six warm-up games since March and beating the likes of Panama, Honduras and El Salvador and drawing with Chile.
El Tri has the best tournament record of any Gold Cup participant by far, and despite the development of the US over the last 20 years, they are still the class of Concacaf. They have won only one of the last four tournaments however, being eliminated by Canada, Republic of Korea and Colombia. Although the other participants will take heart from these upsets Mexico will also be pleased that there are no invited teams to this year’s edition. That means that there will be a familiar superiority for the experienced Mexicans, which makes them tournament favourites. Like Costa Rica, Mexico is now managed by a legendary striker. Hugo Sanchez has had a mixed start, losing to the US in Arizona in February. That result will not mean much should the teams meet again in the Gold Cup.
Mexico are in Group C and anything less than first place in this group will be a failure. Mexico has never lost to Panama or Cuba and its two losses to Honduras were harmless preliminary World Cup qualifiers.