WITH neither USA nor Mexico competing in Group B of the CONCACAF Gold Cup is top spot up for grabs? We asked Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) to analyse the group.
CONCACAF Gold Cup: Group B | 9th-15th July 2015 | BT Sport
Now this is an interesting betting heat. With both continental powerhouses USA and Mexico residing in the other groups, there’s a serious chance for any of the four nations to top the pool. Last summer’s World Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica are expected to take top honours but it might not be quite so straightforward for the Ticos.
Jamaica enjoyed a decent Copa America and continue to make strides whilst a resurgent Canada with home advantage for their crucial clash with Costa Rica will also fancy their chances of at least securing a knockout place. El Salvador are likely to be the stragglers but as we’ve seen before, are more than capable of springing a surprise.
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.
The Reggae Boyz may have lost all three of their Copa America fixtures in June but Winfried Schafer’s squad made plenty of friends thanks to their bullish efforts in Chile – all three defeats came by 1-0 margins (v Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) but there were flashes of encouragement throughout.
Jamaica’s pace and power was evident but so too was a strong spine and excellent cohesiveness to their defence. That experience and extra preparation time should aid their prospects and the current crop of players could well make a dent at the Gold Cup this summer.
It’s been an excellent transformation for the Reggae Boyz under Schafer. In 2012 they finished last in the Caribbean Cup in a group consisting of Martinique, Cuba and French Guiana but the German coach clinched gold in the same competition last year and has overseen a courageous bunch with a blend of English club and MLS experience.
They’ll be awkward and organised with the tools to trouble the majority of sides. They frustrated their more illustrious opposition at the Copa and carved out a few decent opportunities too – in a weaker competition they’ll hope and expect progression and top spot in Group B is well within their capabilities.
2nd Costa Rica
The Ticos enjoyed a fabulous campaign, reaching their best ever finish following a penalty shootout exit against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, highly-rated coach Jorge Luis Pinto jumped ship (now in charge of Honduras) soon after and goalkeeping genius Keylor Navas will miss the competition through injury.
Plenty are expecting Costa Rica to challenge the big two for outright honours and although the Ticos are the highest-ranked FIFA member, I’m just a little uneasy about their prospects and progress since last summer. The influence of Pinto on the squad cannot be underestimated and whilst pundits are pointing to their success in the Copa Centroamericana last year, failure to win gold would have been seen as a flop.
Since their World Cup heroics, the Ticos have W4-D3-L3 but two of those defeats came away to Colombia and Spain and neither was by more than the odd goal. Sure, that’s certainly cause for optimism and it’s also worth noting that they gave co-favourites Mexico a serious examination in a pre-tournament friendly – racing into a two-goal lead before six second-half substitutions allowed El Tri to level things up.
But national legend and Premier League hero Paulo Wanchope is now in charge and although he assisted former boss Pinto, is vastly inexperienced. He’s also left out the likes of Bryan Oviedo, Christian Bolaños, Oscar Duarte, Marco Ureña and Yeltsin Tejeda through form and fitness concerns and I’m just unconvinced they’re as good as they were last summer.
There’s no doubt Costa Rica deserve favouritism in Group B but having failed to progress past the quarter-final stage in four of the last five tournaments, the pressure is on to replicate their World Cup displays and get a little closer to continental glory. They should challenge for at least a final four place but I’m not interested in odds-on quotes to top their pool.
Canada, the only side to break the USA and Mexico monopoly on the Gold Cup thanks to their 2000 success, come into the competition keen to make an impact after a successful start to former Real Madrid boss Benito Floro’s reign in charge. But rather than quash that positivity, I’m keen to just take a step back and assess the Canucks before getting too carried away.
Bar that rare trophy in 2000, the Reds don’t often impress on the international front. In fact, Canada have failed to qualify from the group stage in seven of their 11 Gold Cup appearances and in 2013 they exited the competition without scoring a goal against Mexico, Panama and Martinique. Also in the negative column is the loss of several top players – Atiba Hutchinson and Will Johnson, arguably the country's two best players and the engine of the midfield, are both recovering from injury and will not be available.
But there are positives. Floro has spent two years rebuilding the nation’s football program and the Spaniard is starting to get results. Taking a patient approach, looking to arrange fixtures against all and anybody and the slow introduction of young hungry talent is reaping rewards. Canada have made great strides in friendly wins over Guatemala, Puerto Rico as well as holding Iceland to a draw with the Gold Cup the next step.
The Canucks head into the tournament on the back of four straight friendly wins and under Floro’s guidance, the Reds are unbeaten against CONCACAF sides. Canada have W5-D1-L0 in their last six against continental rivals and returned impressive W5-D4-L2 figures in their last 11 internationals.
Playing Costa Rica at home in a crunch clash will certainly aid their prospects of success but again I find more cause for concern than confidence. Defensively and in goal there are question marks, skipper and midfield general Julian de Guzman is ageing and Dwayne de Rosario their all-time top goalscorer has retired.
The great hope for Canadian football is Cyle Larin and big things are expected of the 20-year-old prodigy. Already attracting interest from Europe despite playing just a handful of professional games, Larin has netted three goals in seven caps so far with his speed and power proving troublesome for opposition defences. The target forward is likely to burden the Canucks’ attacking philosophy and should he succeed with his hold up play and nose for goal, Canada may come close to realising their hopes but third-place looks most likely.
4th El Salvador
Led by a former Barcelona assistant coach Alberta Roca, El Salvador bring a young squad to the Gold Cup, looking to make an impact in a fairly open group. There’s certainly pedigree there – La Selecta have reached the last eight in the last two Gold Cups and arrive on the back of a 6-3 aggregate win over St. Kitts and Nevis during 2018 World Cup qualification. OK, the latter wasn’t quite as impressive with media back home suggesting the 2-2 in the away leg was one of the nation’s worst ever performances. Ouch.
In those two successful Gold Cup group progressions, El Salvador found themselves in the Group of Death. So a squad that’s steadily improving, looking more organised and professional under Roca’s management, a similar feat should be achievable. Going by their 1-0 friendly loss to Chile recently, La Selecta are no mugs at all.
FC Viitorul forward Nelson Bonilla is the man in form but is one of just a handful of players competing in Europe. The majority of young talent arrives from FAS and Metapan in their domestic league but skipper and New York Cosmos midfielder Andres Flores makes the team tick from midfield alongside Artur Alvarez whilst centre-back pairing Milton Molina and Alex Mendoz are efficient.
But there remains a dark cloud over El Salvador. A huge match-fixing scandal engulfed the country in recent years and despite early promise under Roca’s leadership, the suggestion is a poor campaign could lead to his sacking. There appears to be little stability behind the scenes and a return of W2-D2-L7 since qualifying from the group stage of the Copa Centroamericana last year also points towards a potential struggle in July.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – Jamaica to win Group B (11/4 Betfred)
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.