INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, concluding with Group C.
CONCACAF Gold Cup | Group C | 9th-16th 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.
Curacao (10/1 Bet365)
Curacao – previously known as the Netherlands Antilles until 2010 – are making their first-ever appearance at the Gold Cup and arrive as Caribbean Cup champions having overcome Jamaica in the final last month.
The Dutch territory also managed the impressive feat of eliminating Cuba from 2018 World Cup qualifying, suggesting they shouldn’t be taken lightly in Group C.
The small island nation are lead by Remko Bicentini – who took over from Patrick Kluivert last September – and are renowned for playing a possession-oriented game, unusual for smaller international sides whom tend to focus on sitting deep and playing on the counter-attack.
Striker Elson Hooi plays in the Danish first division and was Curacao's Caribbean Cup hero, scoring two goals in the tournament final; midfielder Leandro Bacuna is a regular at Aston Villa, and captain Cuco Martina just finished a stint at Southampton and has been linked to Everton.
So Curacao have a decent pedigree, have recent experience in beating pool rivals Jamaica too. However, the might of Mexico could prove too tall a task whilst El Salvador beat the islanders in World Cup qualifcaiton.
El Salvador (12/1 188BET)
El Salvador are competing in their 10th Gold Cup and making their sixth successive appearance. And whilst Los Cuscatlecos have never previously progressed past the quarter-finals, the appointment of head coach Eduardo Lara last year has given supporters hope of a similar effort in 2017.
El Salvador finished third in the Copa Centroamericana earlier this year and Colombian Lara has built a balanced squad that’s capable of upsetting the odds. Captain Darwin Ceren is a pivotal central midfield presence and is joined by crafty playmaker Rodolfo Zelaya in Los Cuscatlecos’ strongest position.
Up front, Andres Flores can finish if provided with service whilst the underdogs’ squad is packed with players with previous experience of playing in the States. Pronounced as outsiders and written off early on, the Salvadoran outfit could be capable of an upset or two.
Jamaica (9/1 Betway)
Jamaica did us proud two years ago as the 66/1 outsiders collected an each-way pay-out for WLB readers but the Reggae Boyz’s success was as much down to Winfried Schafer’s wondrous organisational ability, as it was their pace, power and stability across the spine of the side.
Schafer’s moved on to pastures new and it’s no major surprise to see Jamaican football stagnate. The squad will be drastically different with no Wes Morgan, Adrian Mariappa, Michael Hector, Giles Barnes, Rodolph Austin, Simon Dawkins, Garath McCleary or Jobi McAnuff involved and so a repeat of their best-ever finish appears very unlikely. 1
998 World Cup star Theodore Whitmore is now in charge for a second stint and having qualified as one of the Caribbean subregion's top four teams during Caribbean Cup – advancing to the final – expectations have simmered following a series of inconsistent performances.
Andre Blake is one of CONCACAF's top goalkeepers and a linchpin for Jamaica's hopes; Darren Mattocks is similarly crucial to their attack and his Portland Timbers teammate Alvas Powell is an excellent presence at right back, along with left-back Kemar Lawrence and Je-Vaughn Watson in midfield.
Jamaica will want to finish second behind Mexico in Group C and have the talent to seal second spot but I wouldn’t be confident in backing the Reggae Boyz to perform this time around.
Mexico (1/4 Betway)
Mexico are the kings of the Gold Cup having taken part in all 13 editions of the tournament, claiming seven (54%) titles and only missing out on the final on five (38%) occasions. Supporters of El Tri always expect nothing short of outright glory.
But that might be tricky this time around. Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio decided to take his best players to the Confederations Cup, opting for a heavily domestic-based squad. Indeed, Mexico’s travelling party has an experimental air about it.
Jose de Jesus Corona is the most experienced member of the squad with 42 caps, but only five other members of the roster have made double-digit appearances for the national team, and one of them is a goalkeeper Moises Munoz.
Midfielder Orbelin Pineda should be watched. The 21-year-old is one of several exciting youngsters who will be keen to impress and was a key cog when Chivas won the Liga MX Clausura title in May, attracting interest from Manchester City and Porto in the past.
It’s still a potent team for this competition; striker Erick Torres, Pachuca star Erick Gutierrez and a heavy Chivas Guadalajara contingent featuring Orbelin Pineda should ensure El Tri continue to challenge in the latter stages.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – No bet
For previews of all three Gold Cup groups, including team-by-team analysis, and the outright market follow the below links: