TOURNAMENT favourites Mexico are in Group C alongside Caribbean teams Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago as well as Central American side Guatemala. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdicts on the pool.
CONCACAF Gold Cup: Group C | 10th-16th July 2015 | BT Sport
Mexico are expected to run away with Group C and form their part of the bargain to meet USA in the grand finale but there could be an interesting battle to see who joins them in the quarter-finals.
Guatemala will fancy their chances of usurping a chaotic Trinidad team whilst the competition’s biggest outsiders Cuba make up the pool. With a real lack of information surrounding the Cubans, could they be the 2015 surprise package?
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.
Mexico have been marked up as slight tournament favourites but I’m prepared to take them on. Yeah, they’ll ease to top spot on in Group C and they’ve arguably got the strongest squad but El Tri are missing chief goal-getter Javier Hernandez (39 goals in 72 caps) and key defender Hector Moreno through injury – their two standout stars.
We can ignore Mexico’s Copa America campaign – they fielded a second string – and sure, they made plenty of friends for their excellent World Cup campaign 12 months ago. But excluding the Copa and a return of W3-D3-L3 from their most recent nine friendlies has brought a degree of questioning and pressure from the public.
There’s a real demand for success, an expectation that El Tri will regain their status as continental kings following a rough two-year spell – Mexico failed to reach the final in 2013 and finished fourth from six in the final World Cup qualifying group – but the pressure to succeed has often proven fatal.
Charismatic boss Miguel Herrera is beginning to feel the heat and Moreno’s injury has brought about a change in formation with 4-4-2 being worked on. Does the boss have enough time to successfully implement a new strategy? Lucky for El Tri they’re in the weakest pool and topping Group C looks a formality and the bookies know it.
With Mexico untouchable in Group C, there’s a huge opportunity to pinch second place and a guaranteed place in the quarter-finals. Guatemala may have only qualified from their Gold Cup in three of their previous nine appearances but there’s a lot to like about La Bicolor despite their poor return of W1-D2-L5 across their most recent eight fixtures.
Ivan Franco Sopegno is the man in charge – one of the nation’s most successful domestic coaches of all-time – but after winning his opening two matches in charge has only managed to beat 126th ranked Bermuda 1-0 in that spell. Defeats to Gold Cup rivals Mexico, USA and Canada are again worrying signs.
But Guatemala were impressive in the Copa Centroamericana last year and only narrowly missed out on top honours after a final defeat to Costa Rica. Sopegno’s drawn criticism in his homeland for not nailing down an ideology but there’s a real familiarity amongst the players – 10 earn their wages for the same club, Communicaciones, in Guatemala including the whole midfield.
It’s an experienced squad, which is likely to lean heavily on Seattle Sounders’ Marco Pappa. He’s a match winner playing at his peak and deservedly secured the MVP at the aforementioned Copa Centroamericana in 2014. He’s the chief creator but also relied on to nick a few goals with his set-piece delivery crucial.
Recent form suggests something is a miss with La Bicolor but should Sopegno manage to organise his troops and singing from the same hymn sheet there’s no reason why this bunch can’t seriously challenge and expect to grab second spot.
Crikey, this is going to be tough. Cuba are the biggest outsider in the competition but why? Because we know very little about the nation’s football team. Is that reason enough for writing them off? I don’t think so.
I’ve been digging here, there and everywhere for a bit of dirt on Cuba. We know they’ve a wonderful nickname – Leones del Caribe (the Lions of the Caribbean) and we know they’ve only made it past the group stages of the Gold Cup twice in seven attempts, including in 2013. Now it gets tricky…
Raul Gonzalez Triana’s side are inexperienced and their recent form isn’t great. They’re already out of World Cup qualification and lost a friendly against New York Cosmos. But they did hold fellow group C members Trinidad & Tobago 0-0 in last year’s Caribbean Cup as well as Curacao twice last month – that’s the same Curacao who beat Trinidad.
The squad’s made up almost entirely of domestic based players and with expectations low, the team can play without pressure. Preparation hasn’t been ideal but nor has it for Guatemala or Trinidad and there’s a promising generation of younger players starting to make their way into the fold.
Could they upset the odds? Probably not but I refuse to write them off – T&T are in all sorts of bother and three points here or there could easily prove enough to qualify. I’ll be cheering them on!
4th Trinidad & Tobago
Where on earth do you start with Trinidad? To begin with, the T&T FA have been bankrupt ever since that rascal Jack Warner left the building in 2011 and the uncertainty over salaries, match fees, friendly arrangements and training camps have knocked the cricket-loving nation for six. It’s gotten so bad that even boss Stephen Hart has slammed the lack of preparation and organisation surrounding the national team.
The Soca Warriors in theory have a super chance of progression but their credentials aren’t great – T&T have fallen at the first hurdle in six of their eight previous Gold Cup excursions and they arrive having lost to the likes of Jordan, Curacao, and Panama in the last three months. Under Hart they’ve W9-D6-L4 but the bulk of those results (and wins) came against poor regional opposition.
Then there’s the injury and absentee problems. Star striker Kevin Molino, described by Hart as ‘irreplaceable’ is out along with Hughtun Hector, Carlyle Mitchell, Seon Power and Robert Primus with all five regular starters. Not a single squad player is over the age of 30 and so the Soca Warriors will need to lean on Khaleem Hyland and Kenwyne Jones’ experience if they’re to overcome the adversity.
Jones polarises opinion in his homeland and hasn’t scored an international goal against non-Caribbean competition in almost two years. Without Molino’s support he could be isolated and I just get the feeling the team is beginning to unravel.
There are little positives I can find for Trinidad and I’m expecting a miserable campaign.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – Cuba to qualify from Group C (19/10 Ladbrokes)
CONCACAF Gold Cup
Stay tuned for group verdicts and team-by-team analysis from Mark throughout the competition. 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.