The 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup will see the majority of the tournament based in the United States of America, the holders, with Costa Rica and Jamaica also staging some of the games.
There are 16 competing teams at 17 venues in 16 host cities. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the quarter-finals.
Trinidad and Tobago
Canada and Mexico are almost certain to be the teams to progress from this group and each has a game before they meet in the second round of matches so that should be some encounter. Canada won the Gold Cup back in 2000 and reached the quarter finals of the 2017 competition, with that being the first time the team had gone beyond the group stage since 2009. The team doesn`t play many internationals but has a good recent record winning their last four internationals with an 18-2 aggregate total.
Mexico is, historically, the most successful CONCACAF nation having won seven gold cups and is the only team from the confederation to have won an official FIFA competition, the 1999 Confederations Cup. There is a certain Wolverhampton Wanderers player who will have much attention over here when he seeks to add to his 17 goals from 70 international appearances, 28 year old Raul Jimenez. At the other end of the team Mexico has massive experience including 100 cap goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa of Standard Liege. Just in front of him but only four caps behind is Real Sociedad defender Hector Moreno.
Such is the quality of Mexico and Canada that the most Martinique and Cuba can hope for is a good showing and valuable experience although Martinique did reach the quarter-finals in 2002 where they went out to Canada on penalties.
PREDICTION: Mexico and Canada
Costa Rica are not the minnows as perhaps they are perceived from outside the federation. They qualified for the World Cup in 2002 and 2006 and in 2014 they topped a group that included former World Cup winners; England, Italy and Uruguay. They went on to the quarter finals where they lost to the Netherlands 4-3 on penalties after a goalless draw.
There is a vast amount of experience in the squad from Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, 87 caps, through skipper Bryan Ruiz of Santos who has scored and impressive 25 goals in his 120 internationals to Joel Campbell the 85 capped forward who plays for Leon.
Haiti has one of the longest football traditions in the region and were only the second Caribbean team to make the World Cup finals which they did in 1974, a year after they won the CONCACAF Championship. Their best known player is St Mirren striker Duckens Nazon who is top scorer with an excellent international scoring ratio of 16 in 26 appearances.
In Nicaragua association football is truly a minority sport hence it wasn`t until 2009 when they qualified for their first major international football competition, the 2009 Gold Cup. The team qualified for but lost out in the group stage of the 2017 CONCACAF Championship. Their best known player is skipper Juan Barrera, with 49 caps, who is also their top scorer with 17 goals.
This will be Bermuda`s debut in a major international tournament and there will be much responsibility on the shoulders of their stand out by a mile top man, Nahki Wells, the QPR striker who can win any game in an instant.
PREDICTION: Costa Rica and outside bet for Bermuda
Honduras are one of the better teams in the Federation having qualified for the World Cup finals in 1982, 2010 and as recent as 2014. Honduras has won the Central American Cup four times and are the current champions having won in 2017. In skipper Maynor Figueroa they have one of the world`s most capped footballers, 150 appeaances. At the other end of the team is the captain`s Houston Dynamo team mate, striker Alberth Elis and Girona forward Anthony Lozano.
Jamaica has a very good recent record in this competition having been runners-up in 2015 and 2017, the latter occasion when they shocked Mexico in the semi-final. The bulk of their players play in the MLS though Michael Hector will be familiar to Sheffield Wednesday fans.
El Salvador are not the most successful team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup but since they lost 5-0 in a friendly to Brazil, in September 2018, they have only lost to Bermuda, 1-0 and won their other five games.
Rodolfo Zelaya is their danger man. The Los Angeles FC striker has a most impressive international scoring ratio of very nearly one in two, 21 times he has scored in his 45 appearances.
Curacao played their first ever game as a national team as recently as 2011 when they lost narrowly to the Dominican Republic, 1-0. In the qualifying competition for last year`s World Cup they caused a major upset when they eliminated Cuba. Two years ago they won the Caribbean Cup and in the same year reached the group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Striker Rangelo Janga will be looking to shine on the international stage and with a scoring tally of 10 goals in 14 games the Astana (Kazakhstan) forward should not be overlooked.
PREDICTION: Honduras and Jamaica
Hosts United States are odds-on favourites for a competition they have won six times and after their dismal failure to reach the last World Cup it gives the MLS driven national team the perfect platform to bounce back.
De Andre Yedlin had a great season with Newcastle in the Premier League and there will be much reliance on him at the back. In midfield 31 year old Michael Bradley is still there racking up his cap tally, currently standing at145. The Americans might need those two because there aren`t too many goals up front with the exception of Bobby Wood. The Hanover 96 striker has scored an underwhelming 13 times in 45 internationals but this tournament might see the coming of age of Timothy Weah.
Trinidad and Tobago has reached the CONCACAF Gold Cup eight times with the semi-final of 2000 being their best showing and then finishing third. They are far more successful in the Caribbean Cup which they have won eight times. But the fact that their top scorer is Seattle defender Joevin Jones with seven in 68 internationals underlines their struggle for goals.
Their will be a grudge element to their clash with the hosts in Cleveland as it was the shock 2-1 win over the States that prevented qualification for Russia 2018.
The game between Panama and the USA will also be interesting considering the 2005 and 2013 Gold Cup Finals in which Los Canaleros –
The Canal Men- lost to the States. However they did win the Central American Cup in 2009 and also reached their first ever World Cup finals in 2018 when they registered their first ever World Cup goal, against England, who went on to win 6-1. And as if to lay down a marker they will be no pushovers Panama go into the Gold Cup on the back of a 1-1 draw with Brazil in March.
On March 23rd 2019 Guyana qualified for their first CONCACAF Gold Cup finals with a 2-1 victory over Belize. One stand out fact about the Guyana team is the number of players who ply their trade in English non-league football. Sam Cox and Marcel Barrington play for Hampton and Richmond Borough while Anthony Jeffrey and Eliot Bonds play for Dover Athletic and Farnborough respectively. But the best known of their players is 36 year old Bury forward Neil Danns with 6 goals in his eight appearances since he committed to Guyana. What a season he has just had helping them to automatic promotion from League 2.
This could well be THE group to watch closely.
PREDICTION: United States and Trinidad & Tobago
Written by Brian Beard.