INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, starting with Group A.
CONCACAF Gold Cup | Group A | 7th-14th July 2017
The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup is the 14th edition of the regional tournament for North and Central America with the carrot for claiming top honours a big deal for countries taking part.
The winner of the competition advances to a play-off with the 2019 winner for a chance to compete in the 2021 Confederations Cup and with 12 teams competing across three groups, only four nations exit the event after the group-stage (the best two runners-up join the top two in each pool in the quarter-finals).
The chances of a surprise semi-finalist or two are therefore very real and two years ago we managed to highlight Jamaica as 66/1 each-way value. The Reggae Boyz' were beaten finalists but I’m hoping to pluck something similar out ahead of this summer’s tournament.
The USA will once again host with defending champions Mexico bidding to add to their record haul of seven Gold Cup titles.
Canada (4/1 Bey365)
Canada were joint-hosts of the Gold Cup two years ago and arrived with plenty of fighting talk. But the Canucks failed to impress and the national team has continued their never-ending cycle of rebuilding ever since…
Les Rouges may have achieved the impossible in 2000 – taking top honours – but the end goal has always been World Cup qualification. That elusive aim has seen coaches hired and fired frequently with Ecuadorean boss Octavio Zambrano arriving as recently as March this year.
Zambrano’s blueprint is to usher in a youth movement to lead Canada into the 2022 World Cup qualifying cycle and youngsters such as Raheem Edwards, Alphonso Davies and Anthony Jackson-Hamel offer Canucks fans hope.
Questions remain over whether Canada will play the attack-minded game Zambrano wants but Jackson-Hamel is in good form and Lucas Cavallini is banging in goals for Uruguayan giants Penarol.
Star striker Cyle Larin isn’t involved but speedster Tosaint Ricketts could cause problems, whilst veterans Patrice Bernier and Marcel de Jong are the most recognizable faces in a squad that’s aiming to at least progress from arguably the toughest pool in the competition.
Canada open the tournament against French Guiana and will be expected to rack up a cushy victory with qualification probably coming down to a clash against old rivals Honduras in the final pool fixture. The Honduras have ended Les Rouges’ last two qualifying campaigns and they may bring up the hat-trick here.
Costa Rica (10/11 Betway)
Costa Rica were a penalty shootout away from a place in the World Cup semi-finals back in 2014 and although Los Ticos have undergone a few false starts since that famous campaign, the 2002 runners-up could be capable of breaking the joint US-Mexico stranglehold on the Gold Cup.
National legend and Premier League hero Paulo Wanchope has been and gone with Oscar Ramirez picking up the pieces from Wanchope’s failed reign in 2015. Costa Rica have refound their mojo and are sitting in second-place of CONCACAF’s infamous Hexagonal World Cup qualifying phase.
Los Ticos have failed to progress past the quarter-final stage in five of the last six tournaments and finishing fourth in this year’s Copa Centroamericana wasn’t considered a huge success. But a 4-0 thrashing of USA in November and a full-strength squad bar goalkeeper Keylor Navas suggests they mean business.
Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Bryan Oviedo, Michael Umana Alvaro Saborio and Marco Urena are all present and the notoriously difficult-to-breakdown 5-4-1 system should stand the side in good stead having been drawn in the toughest section.
French Guiana (50/1 188BET)
French Guiana are the wild card of this summer’s Gold Cup. Les Yana Dòkòs (‘Strong Guiana') began qualifying for this summer's Caribbean Cup way back in March 2016, where they clinched a spot at the Gold Cup as one of the Caribbean subregion's top four teams.
The side beat Haiti to reach the Caribbean Cup and were only knocked out on penalties in the semi-final against Jamaica, eventually finishing third. That’s an excellent achievement for an overseas department of France that’s ineligible for full FIFA competitions like the World Cup.
The sparsely-populated territory perched on the corner of South America are making their debut at the Gold Cup and feature the relative rarity of dual head coaches; local PE teacher Jaïr Karam and Frenchman Marie-Rose Careme are in charge with Karam boldly stating his team's goal is a run to the quarter-finals.
French Guiana’s status as a former French colony and province means that its most talented players play for the mother country. But France internationals of Guianese descent can also represent French Guiana, such as former Chelsea star Florent Malouda this summer.
Midfielder Ludovic Baal and striker Sloan Privat both ply their trade in France's Ligue 1 and are capable of mixing it with the best the competition has to offer but ultimately, surviving the group stage would be a major achievement for the tournament debutants.
Honduras (23/10 188BET)
Head coach Jorge Luis Pinto shot into worldwide prominence when he led Costa Rica on a Cinderella run at the 2014 World Cup but the Colombian's subsequent move to Honduras hasn't gone quite so swimmingly.
Although Los Catrachos claimed Copa Centroamericana glory in January despite fielding a more inexperienced squad, the 1991 Gold Cup runners-up haven’t won a competitive match since and gone W1-D4-L3 over their past eight outings; the only victory arriving against Nicaragua.
Honduras are just a place off the bottom of CONCACAF’s Hexagonal qualifying group for the 2018 World Cup with a gruesome -7 goal difference accumulated over six games. It’s not pretty but Pinto’s ability to motivate and organise mean Honduras can’t be dismissed.
Lightning fast Houston Dynamo strike duo Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto and veteran midfielder Boniek Garcia provide attacking impetus whilst forward Anthony Lozano arrives off the back of a promising loan stint with Tenerife. Defender Maynor Figueroa adds a wealth of experience but at the back their ability is questionable.
Honduras have the talent to overhaul just about any at this tournament and their travelling schedule has been kind. But whether Pinto can inspire his timid troops to pull off his game-plan to perfection in the current clime remains to be seen and anything better than a quarter-final berth looks beyond Los Catrachos.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – Costa Rica to win Group A (10/11 Betway)
For previews of all three Gold Cup groups, including team-by-team analysis, and the outright market follow the below links: