A BUSY summer of international football continues with CONCACAF’s Gold Cup getting started in the very early hours of Wednesday morning. Fresh from selecting Chile as the Copa America champions, Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his outright winner best bets.
CONCACAF Gold Cup | 7th-26th July 2015 | BT Sport
Did the Copa America leave you penniless? If so, you’re not alone. Thankfully the next regional international football tournament is on the horizon with CONCACAF’s Gold Cup taking centre stage for the next three weeks I for one am looking forward to another feast of regular top-level action.
Like the Copa, the Gold Cup will feature 12 teams across three groups with only four nations exiting the competition after the group-stage (the best two runners-up join the top two in each pool in the quarter-final stage). So again, just like the Copa, the chances of a surprise semi-finalist or two are very real.
It’s the 13 edition of the region tournament and the carrot for claiming top honours is a big deal for these countries. The winners will qualify for a play-off match against the USA, the 2013 champions, for the right to represent the CONCACAF region at the 2017 Confederations Cup. Of course, should USA come out on top, they’ll book their place at the Confederations Cup without the need for a play-off.
Defending champions USA will again host the event with a little help from Canada as they bid to equal Mexico’s record of six Gold Cup titles. Below we’ll take a look at the key players in the outright winner market.
It’s absolutely no surprise to see the big two dominate the betting. Only three nations have won the Gold Cup and 11 of the 12 tournaments have been claimed by USA or Mexico – Canada are the only side to break their dominance in 2000 – with three of the last four finals featuring USA (13/8 William Hill) and Mexico (8/5 Bwin).
The draw certainly favours the duo. Not that there was a draw exactly – competition organisers picked the groups based on rankings and conveniently kept the powerhouses apart meaning they’re only likely to meet in the Philadelphia final on 26 July should, as expected, they both top their groups.
When looking at what’s required to go the distance it’s worth evaluating recent form as well as the draw. The last eight winners of the Gold Cup have boasted a points-per-game average of at least 1.50 in matches they’ve played between Gold Cups and using that analysis again throws up USA, Mexico as well as 2014 World Cup surprise package Costa Rica (13/2 Coral). So let’s take a look at the three leading contenders.
Mexico (8/5 Bwin)
Mexico have been marked up as slight tournament favourites but as I’ve mentioned in previous competition previews, I’m just not a man for picking pre-tournament favourites. But there’s more to it than anything personal against the bookmakers’ best.
El Tri are missing chief goal-getter Javier Hernandez (39 goals in 72 caps) and key defender Hector Moreno through injury and the loss of the latter can’t be overestimated. The Porto rock had an outstanding campaign and will certainly be missed as boss Miguel Herrera continues with his enterprising 5-3-2 system.
Ignore Mexico’s Copa America campaign – they fielded a second string – and sure, they made plenty of friends for their excellent World Cup campaign 12 months ago. But excluding the Copa and a return of W3-D3-L3 from their most recent nine friendlies has brought a degree of questioning and pressure from the public.
There’s a real demand for success, an expectation that El Tri will regain their status as continental kings following a rough two-year spell – Mexico failed to reach the final in 2013 and finished fourth from six in the final World Cup qualifying group – but the pressure to succeed has often proven fatal.
Yes, Herrera’s charges should have no problem topping a weak Group C and a place in the final is the bare minimum for an acceptable campaign. However, their return of just five wins in 22 fixtures against likeliest final opposition USA since the turn of the millennium is a big turn-off.
There’s quality in abundance, the strongest domestic league in the region and superb squad depth but the value isn’t with Mexico this month, it’s with their rivals from across the border.
USA (13/8 William Hill)
Yes, USA! USA! USA! are the selection I’m happiest being on. It won’t make you rich but the 13/8 from William Hill gives us a little more juice and I’d like to think the squad, form and destination of the competition is slightly favouring a bet on the Stars and Stripes. With only one of the 12 Gold Cup winners not coming from USA and Mexico it would be wrong not to have an investment on either.
Although drawn in the toughest group, the Americans should have little problem progressing in top spot and from there it should all be about going the distance. Defensively there’s still work to be done but it’s hard not to be impressed by recent come-from-behind friendly victories in the Netherlands and Germany in preparation.
Klinsmann’s been in charge for four years now and the team are enjoying the positive aspects of continuity and confidence from the German striking legend. Collective strength, discipline and hard work are paramount to Klinsmann’s ideals, far more so than outstanding individual talent and although four of the squad that started in their World Cup exit to Belgium (Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard) are missing, there’s a new breed of talent coming through.
Michael Bradley’s flourished as the team’s new skipper and Jozy Altidore is relishing his return home and leading the attack with gusto. With the likes of Clint Dempsey and Aron Johannsson in toe, the squad should have enough craft, guile and size to trouble the stubborn defences of Panama and Honduras to secure top spot.
The USA have clinched three of the last six titles and reached the final in five straight Gold Cups now. They’ve won more Gold Cup matches than Mexico despite trailing in silverware and with a passionate home support behind them, make the most obvious betting selection to win outright.
Costa Rica (13/2 Coral)
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 for the big two and although the Ticos are the highest-ranked FIFA member, I’m just a little uneasy about their 13/2 quotes. 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. 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.
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 (alongside Jamaica, El Salvador and Canada) 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 they’re not worthy of a bet at 13/2.
Best Of The Rest
The aforementioned Jorge Luis Pinto’s ability to motivate and organise mean Honduras (25/1 BetVictor) can’t be dismissed despite being drawn in a tough looking Group A alongside USA, Haiti and dark horses Panama. But Los Catrachos are still recovering from their pointless World Cup campaign 12 months and appear to be a team on a downward spiral.
In fact, Honduras were lucky to even be here. The fact they were forced to roar back from a 3-1 first leg deficit in a qualifier against French Guiana to win 3-0 in the return speaks volumes of just where the current crop are. Andy Najar is the great hope but their success surely depends on Pinto’s exceptional ability to overhaul a faltering defence. Ultimately, their W2-D4-L6 return from their previous 12 means again the 25/1 is too short to entertain.
Panama (20/1 Bet365 could provide plenty of shock-potential should they safely negotiate a passage to the knockout stages. The squad is certainly ageing but a youthful bunch of talented players are beginning to make their mark and Los Canaleros will be looking to build on a return of two runners-up, one semi-final and two quarter-final finishes in their last five Gold Cup appearances.
Recent friendly victories over Trinidad & Tobago and Costa Rica have encouraged but expectation levels have risen dramatically back home and the surprise element has dissipated over the years. Baseball is still king back home and being drawn in that tricky Group A works against them but a top-two finish could/should see them reach the final four.
However, it’s the 66/1 (Bet365) on Jamaica that holds most appeal when looking for an outsider. 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.
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 with Group B’s top spot well within grasp alongside Costa Rica, Canada and El Salvador, the current crop could well make a dent this summer. Even if second spot is achieved, a showdown with Group C’s runners-up is most certainly passable.
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 and seeing the side almost treble the odds of Honduras in an easier group just has to be taken advantage of. I'll back them each-way, ensuring a profit (1/3 of 66/1) should they at least reach the final.
CONCACAF Gold Cup – USA to win (13/8 William Hill)
CONCACAF Gold Cup – Jamaica to win (66/1 each-way Bet365)
CONCACAF Gold Cup
Stay tuned for group verdicts and team-by-team analysis from Mark before the competition kicks-off. And we’ll be covering each match on WeLoveBetting, sharing our betting opinions so we’d love to hear who you fancy.
Let us know your best CONCACAF Gold Cup bets in the comments box below.