THE two Group C underdogs go head-to-head with places in the CONCACAF Gold Cup knockout stage still up for grabs. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his best bet.
Cuba v Guatemala | Wednesday 23.00 | BT Sport 2
It’s been a chaotic couple of weeks for Cuba but somehow they remain in the hunt for a quarter-final place at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Humped 6-0 by Mexico (when it really should have been closer to 16-0) whilst their head coach and six players were stuck in Havana due to visa problems, coupled with the defection of forward Keilen Garcia before a ball was kicked, and not many gave the team a chance of progression.
Pre-tournament I suggested Cuba had a chance to qualify. They’re in the weakest pool and there’s little known about the nation as a football quantity. So after such a horrendous start, the side bounced back well to give Trinidad & Tobago a decent run for their money in a 2-0 defeat. Yet the Lions of the Caribbean can still claim a place in the last eight despite holding a -8 goal difference.
Preparations haven’t improved though. Midfielder Arael Arguellez defected before that Trinidad loss and midfielder Aricheel Hernandez remains back home, unable to get his own visa sorted. But head coach Raúl González Triana remains buoyant about Cuba’s chances to upset the odds – BetVictor have made the Lions a 17/2 shot to pocket maximum points and that price has been trimmed in the past few days.
Still, Guatemala remain hot favourites to put a final nail in the Cuban coffin and seal their own place in the quarter-finals. Victory for either side is enough to ensure qualification and although the two nations have cobbled together just one goal combined across their four Group C outings, it’s La Bicolor who are in far better shape.
Ivan Sopegno’s men performed admirably to hold pre-tournament favourites Mexico to a goalless draw with a stubborn and aggressive defensive display. Holding the six-times champions to their first scoreless game in 32 Gold Cup encounters deserves plenty of praise (even if Guatemala rode their luck) and La Bicolor to have match-winners within their ranks.
Seattle Sounders midfielder Marco Pappa and skipper Carlos Ruiz will shoulder the attacking burden and although Sopegno’s side have tasted victory just once in their past 11 matches, anything but three points in Charlotte on Wednesday night should be deemed a big failure. Midfielder Jose Manuel Contreras is suspended but there are simply no excuses.
I wouldn’t discount Cuba making a game of it, even scoring, but the best play is surely to take Guatemala in the HT-FT market at a juicy 6/5 thanks to BetVictor. Cuba were 4-0 down at the interval against Mexico in their opener and conceded two first-half goals against Trinidad last time out so it may not take long for Guatemala to get in front before clinching their quarter-final berth.
Cuba v Guatemala – Guatemala-Guatemala (6/5 BetVictor)
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