INTERNATIONAL football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, continuing with Group B.
CONCACAF Gold Cup | Group B | 8th-15th 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.
Martinique (40/1 188BET)
Martinique are making their fifth Gold Cup appearance having qualified as one of the Caribbean subregion's top four teams, losing the third-place match 1-0 to French Guiana in the recent Caribbean Cup.
The French overseas department were quarter-finalists in 2002 but haven’t claimed a victory since last October. Nevertheless, boss Jean-Marc Civault – who juggles national team duty alongside his position as local coach of Aiglon du Lamentin – remains bullishly confident about their prospects.
The islanders could be potential dark horses as their true prospects are tough to gauge. Les Matinino may lack star power but the Caribbean team have worked hard to bring in French-affiliated players such as well-travelled Yoann Arquin and winger Johan Audel.
Legia Warsaw’s Steeven Langil has performed well for Martinique recently, scoring four goals in only six appearances whilst young Seattle full-back Jordy Delem and Kevin Parsemain are arguably the headline acts in a side that's built from the back.
Sporting Gijon centre-back Jean-Sylvain Babin is a commanding presence and was key during Martinique’s run in the Caribbean Cup where the nation conceded just four goals in qualifying, the tournament semi-finals and third-place match combined. But this is a squad enthused by the collective with the capability of causing a few headaches against stronger opposition.
Nicaragua (20/1 Bet365)
One of Central America's traditional underdogs and a country where baseball has historically been as popular as football, little is known about the Nicaraguan national team. Los Pinoleros have only one before reached the Gold Cup (2009) and back then the team failed to progress past the group-stage or even score a goal.
Well-travelled Costa Rican Henry Duarte has led Nicaragua since 2014 but a sign of their standard can be seen in their qualification route to this summer’s event. Nicaragua needed to oust Haiti 4-3 on aggregate in a play-off between the fifth-place teams in the Caribbean and Central American zones.
The Nicaraguans has lost 10 of their last 15 games in all competitions and been shutout in six of their last eight games, highlighting their position as possible easy meet in the pool.
Defender Josue Quijano and midfielder Marlon Lopez are two of the most experienced players on a Pinoleros squad based almost entirely in the domestic league, mainly at Real Esteli. But striker Juan Barrera, the first Nicaraguan to gain opportunities in Europe and hat-trick hero of their playoff win over Haiti, is probably the top talent on this squad.
Nicaragua’s preliminary squad featured only five players based outside of their home country — in Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Iceland – and was vastly lacking in experience. But the familiarity amongst the squad could be seen as a positive by those looking for green shoots.
Ultimately, there’s little in the way of pedigree and Los Pinoleros will be relying upon discipline, hard work and unity if they’re to beat the odds and make something memorable of this rare Gold Cup trip.
Panama (100/30 Betway)
Baseball is still king back home but Panama’s football team have been making waves in the CONCACAF region over the past 10 years. Los Canaleros have bagged two runners-up, two semi-final and two quarter-final finishes in their last six Gold Cup appearances and are chasing more success this summer.
Experienced Colombian Hernan Dario Gomez lead Panama to silver in January’s Copa Centroamericana and in March the side managed a 1-1 draw against USA in World Cup qualification to keep Los Canaleros in contention for a first ever appearance at the globe’s top football table.
Gomez’s group are well-fancied to follow the States out of Group B and whilst the squad is certainly ageing, there’s a smattering of talented youngsters beginning to make their mark. Roman Torres and Gabriel Torres will be key whilst winger Alberto Quintero and central midfield cog Anibal Godoy help make things tick in the Panama ranks.
A repeat of their run to the semi-finals should well be within reach but a ruthless streak in the pool plus a little luck in the knockout draw could see Los Canaleros upset the odds and secure a spot in the finale for the third time in their history.
USA (1/3 Bet365)
Finishing fourth in 2015 was considered one of the United States’ major lowlights in this competition and signalled the beginning of the end for former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Previously, the Yanks had reached six Gold Cup finals in seven and claimed outright honours in four of those tournaments.
Now back under the tutelage of Bruce Arena following a successful stint from 1998 to 2006, the Stars & Stripes have bigger fry on their minds. Gold Cup glory ranks a distance second behind securing qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
USA are in a precarious position in the Hex, sitting a solitary point above Panama following a woeful W2-D2-L2 return from CONCACAF’s final qualification round. With crunch clashes against Costa Rica and Honduras upcoming in September, Arena has opted to rest his front-line stars this summer.
Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore sit out but Brad Guzan, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi make the cut and all boast significant international experience. And big things are expected of forward Kellyn Acosta in a squad that features all but seven players from the MLS.
In a pool alongside Nicaragua, Panama and Martinique, there should be no issue in sealing a knockout place but it could be worth opposing the States at the prohibitive odds on offer.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – Panama to win Group B (100/30 Betway)
For previews of all three Gold Cup groups, including team-by-team analysis, and the outright market follow the below links: