INTERNATIONAL football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) talks us through the runners and riders in Group A of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
CONCACAF Gold Cup: Group A | 7th-13th July 2015 | BT Sport
It’s difficult to keep a straight face when suggesting there’s a ‘Group of Death’ in the Gold Cup but if there is such a thing, it’s Group A in the 2015 edition. Three of the four nations reached the semi-finals in the last edition just two years ago, making it an extremely competitive pool.
Tournament hosts and defending champions USA are expected to take spot ahead of a Honduras side that’s reached the last two World Cups, 2013 Gold Cup runners-up Panama and rank outsiders Haiti.
Here’s how I see the group panning out (in order), a bit more about each competition side as well as any potential recommended bets.
Those that have read my outright preview will know I’m keen on the USA to go the distance. From a betting perspective, the price is well worth investing in and Jurgen Klinsmann’s troops should have enough spark to negotiate a tricky pool.
Of course, the Stars and Stripes are hosting the tournament too and will be backed by a vociferous home support but there’s plenty of guile and craft from the likes of inspired skipper Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Aron Johannsson and Graham Zusi. Even Sunderland flop Jozy Altidore has emerged as a daunting attacking prospect with his confidence rebuilt.
Klinsmann’s been in charge for four years now and has integrated a solid, disciplined and hard-working team and the German has claimed they’ll do “everything possible to win this competition”. Preparation has gone well too – away friendly victories in the Netherlands and Germany (their first ever win on German soil) were the highlights.
USA played a rigorous set of 12 friendlies post-World Cup and Klinsmann capped 24 players that weren’t included in last year’s travelling party to Brazil. In the end, 17 of the final squad boast World Cup experience and in three games against CONCACAF nations, the Stars and Stripes returned W2-D1-LO whilst nine games against CONMEBOL and UEFA sides saw a decent W3-D2-L4 return with all bar two of those matches played on the road.
There are still a few defensive lapses to iron out and question marks over the full back positions but the US will play proactively and push forward against their continental foes. The stubborn defences of Panama and Honduras will hope to hold firm for as long as possible but the Group A favourites should prove too good and take top spot.
Now here’s a team I can’t wait to see. Panama were surprise finalists in 2013 – dumping out Mexico in the semis before succumbing to the USA in the final. And their progress continued with an impressive World Cup qualifying campaign that ended in heartbreak. Here’s where it gets interesting…
Los Canaleros (AKA the Canal Men) were minutes away from making it to the play-off against New Zealand but USA scored twice in the final moments to eliminate them from contention, gifting Mexico the fourth spot in the Hex. Unsurprisingly, that result still wrangles with the nation and they’ve certainly not forgotten.
For a country that’s fanatical about baseball as opposed to football, Panama finished second at the CONCACAF U20 championships and those bright youngsters are starting to filter through providing an intriguing mix of young and old for boss Hernan Gomez to rotate from. Gomez himself is quite a… character.
Gomez, the former coach of the Colombian national team was forced to resign in 2011 after hitting an unidentified women in 2011. He took over the role with Los Canaleros in 2014 replacing Julio Dely Valdés but is still trying to figure out his best XI but the most recent outings have gone well, with wins over Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica – a game in which Panama dominated the first half and before holding off the Ticos late on.
Expectations are sky high back home – the nation have bagged to silver medals, one semi-final appearance and two quarter-final finishes in their last five Gold Cups and many reckon now is the time for the current crop to turn their status as dark horses into serious contenders.
Hopes will depend on the performance of their reliable backbone; goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, defender Roman Torres, midfielders Anibal Godoy and Gabriel Gomez as well as poacher Blas Perez. They’re not always pretty but they’re a dogged unit and unlikely to be a comfortable proposition for any team – a semi-final place is well within grasp with qualification from Group A paramount.
Honduras might have appeared at the previous two World Cups but there’s a real feeling this side have regressed in the past 12 months and are on the wane. Jorge Luis Pinto was a wonderful appointment (the man responsible for Costa Rica’s fairtytale quarter-final finish at the 2014 World Cup) but even Pinto’s admitted there have been and will be growing pains as Los Catrachos evolve.
This was most in evidence during the Copa Centroamericana where Honduras finished a disappointing fifth and struggled to get past French Guiana in a play-off for the final qualifying spot for the Gold Cup. Anderlecht wizard Andy Najar carried the nation then and is again the big hope of Honduran football.
Drawn in a tough group, I just can’t see the side piercing the top-two positions and a place as one of the best third-place finishers is their most likely route for progression. Pinto has worked overtime to drill his ageing defence and the 4-5-1 and 5-4-1 formations are aimed at stifling opposition teams rather than taking the onus on to attack.
The reasoning? Los Catrachos boast an array of destructive personnel and very little in the way of X-Factor forwards. Anthony Lozano is perhaps their brightest prospect but no striker in the squad has more than 14 caps with their four goal-getters accumulating just 27 caps between them. In fact, 70% of the squad play at home in Honduras and almost half earn their corn for either Motagua or Olimpia.
The nation has lost out at semi-final stage in four of their last five tournaments but the travelling party is noticeable weaker than at the World Cup 12 months ago and have claimed only two wins in eight this calendar year. But those looking for more positive trends will point towards their record across their last five internationals – losing just once, 1-0 to Brazil in June. Ultimately, I expect Honduras to be squeezed out of the top-two.
Group Winner: 40/1 (BetVictor)
To Qualify: 12/5 (Ladbrokes)
Oh dear, this might not be fun. Haiti are still recovering from the disastrous earthquake in 2010 and Les Grenadiers are the big outsiders in Group A. Former head of PSG’s youth academy Marc Collat is the man in charge since 2014 and on the face of it, their W3-D4-L1 return from their last eight offers room for encouragement.
Six of those results came in the weak Caribbean Cup but a 1-0 friendly loss to Chile again provides green shoots. But on the flip side, a disappointing 0-0 draw against 152nd ranked St. Kitts & Nevis in Caribbean Cup qualifying highlights the lack of quality and consistency amongst the Haiti team arriving at the Gold Cup.
The squad has been training since mid-June and there’s certainly an improvement in standards under Collat’s reign. And if their 2013 performances are anything to go by, they’ll be hard to break down – Les Grenadiers pushed Honduras and El Salvador hard in defeats, then beat Trinidad and Tobago in the group stages. But Haiti are a big of an unknown quantity.
The squad is brought together from all around the globe and Kervens Belfort, golden boot winner at the Caribbean Cup, is tasked with providing the attacking outlet despite playing in the third tier of France! Instead, look out for Standard Liege’s attacking midfielder Jeff Louis; he’s creative and explosive and could cause problems if given space.
Sadly though, it’s Reims’ goalkeeper Johnny Placide who’s likely to get the most action as Haiti’s defence rarely functions at the highest of standards. The lack of cohesion at the back means the team are fond of high scoring affairs and could be on the wrong end of a few heavy losses if they don’t find their feet quickly. An early exit beckons.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – USA to win Group A (1/3 Betfair)
CONCACAF Gold Cup – USA to win Group A + Mexico to win Group C double (3/5 BetBright)
CONCACAF Gold Cup
Stay tuned for group verdicts and team-by-team analysis from Mark before the competition kicks-off. And we’ll be covering each match on WeLoveBetting, sharing our betting opinions so we’d love to hear whom you fancy.
Let us know your best CONCACAF Gold Cup bets in the comments box below.