By Brian Beard | 1st OCT 2020
Like most of the known world the world of football has been torn asunder by Covid-19 and the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup has had to be re-scheduled from July next year to take place between 10th July and 1st August 2021.
Twelve teams will qualify through the 2019-20 CONCACAF Nations League and four via the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Because guest nation Qatar will participate in the 2021 and 2023 tournaments as part of their preparation for their 2022 World Cup just three teams will qualify for the 2021 edition via the qualifying competition.
Ranked 73 in the world by FIFA Canada will be hoping their showing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup bears little relationship to their ranking especially as they will co-host the 2026 World Cup. Much will be expected of a squad rich in experience and potential.
The experienced Tosaint Ricketts, a 33 year old forward with Vancouver Whiecaps, has scored 17 goals for his country in 61 appearances and his nowse will be much needed as will the prowess in front of goal of Cardiff City`s Julian Hoillet. However, all eyes will be on Bayern Munich attacking defender Alphonso Davies, still only 18, and a UCL winner to boot.
Liverpool will also be interested in watching the progress of their youngster, Liam Miller, who spent a very successful loan spell with Kilmarnock before recalling him and then resisting loan requests from several top European clubs to take him on loan.
Honduras has qualified for two FIFA World Cup finals since the Millennium, 2010 and 2014 which is in keeping with their pre-eminence in their own backyard, the Central American Cup of which they are four times winners, the most recent being 2017.
Ranked 62 in the world by FIFA Honduras were unbeaten in four pre-Covid internationals; They won 2-0 in Trinidad and followed up by beating Martinique 1-0.
A 1-1 draw with the same opposition was followed by a 4-0 swamping of Trinidad before the pandemic called a halt to world football.
Honduras has several notable players who could carry them to Qatar; Real Sociedad`s Danilo Tobias though only capped once, at 28 has a lot of valuable experience while Boavista`s Jorge Benguche with two goals in three games for his country is a threat that cannot be ignored. Alberth Elis, still only 24, has an impressive goal return for his country of 10 in forty two appearances. The winger helped Honduras to fourth place in the 2016 Olympic football competition and alongside him is 33 year old forward Jerry Bengston who has a most impressive international goal tally of 21 in 55 games, almost a goal every other game.
Ranked 159 in the world Grenada has never qualified for a World Cup finals but they did finish second in the Caribbean Cup in 1989 and 2008. That performance 12 years ago gave the tiny nation its first qualification for a major international competition, the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Before world football hit the buffers Grenada put together a decent run of results; They drew 0-0 away to French Guiana before beating them 1-0. A 0-0 draw with St Kitts was followed by their best performance and result, in four games, a 3-2 victory over Belize. That win came courtesy of a hat-trick from impressive midfielder, Real Sociedad`s Jamal Charles, 24, who took his international goal tally to 14 in 22 with that treble.
Jamaica have built up a decent record over the past five years including runners-up in this competition in 2015 and 2017. The national team also reached the group stage of the Copa America in 2015 and 2016. However Jamaica`s six games in the competition were all defeats though they fared better in their own backyard winning the Caribbean Cup three times since 2008 and being runners-up once.
Their star player is Anderlecht full back Kemar Lawrence, signed from New York Red Bulls. He has been capped 53 times since 2013. Fulham midfielder Bobby Decordova-Reid is another from whom much is expected over the course of the qualifying campaign.
Despite being ranked just 48th in the world Jamaica has an impressive Gold Cup record having been runners-up twice and most recently fourth in 2019.
Ranked 23rd in the world the USA will be feeling the heat to succeed in this competition and reach Qatar if only spurred on by the very successful US women`s team, current world champions, just last year.
The US has an excellent record in their own confederation and have won this competition five times since 2002, most recently 2017. The men`s team has appeared in 10 FIFA World Cup finals and will be hoping Qatar is number 11.
After hosting the 1994 World Cup the USA qualified for five consecutive world cups, sharing that record with seven other nations. Having won the Gold Cup six times the USA will have much optimism for reaching Qatar.
The US federation will be delighted with the news that star man Christian Pulisic is almost recovered from his recent hamstring injury. The Chelsea forward has been a revelation in the Premier League and is just the sort of game changer that can fire the USA to the 2022 World Cup. Juventus midfielder Weston Mc Kennie, with six goals in 19 appearances, will be expected to provide support for Pulisic, as will the experienced Jozy Altidore, 42 gols in 115 appearances.
Following their record 11th success in this competition, in 2019, Mexico are rightly considered favourites for the Gold Cup and Qatar as one of only six nations to qualify for consecutive world cups since 1994. Only Brazil can match their record of making it out of the qualifying stages of the last seven finals competitions. Mexico is, historically, the most successful team in CONCACAF federation.
There is almost the perfect blend of youth and experience in the current squad. Monterrey`s Miguel Lagun, 32, has netted six goals in his 72 appearances and in Ajax midfielder, 22 year old Edson Alvarez, at the other end of the age scale, they have youth and experience as he has already won 32 caps. And if there was ever `one to watch` it would be Guadalajara`s 23 year old midfielder Uriel Antuna who has a striker`s ratio of seven goals in his 13 appearances to date.
Even more exciting is 21 year old striker Jose Juan Macias who has exploded onto the international scene with four goals in five games.
Oh, Mexico can also call upon Atletico Madrid`s Hector Herrera and one Raul Jimenez of Wolves.
Yes, Mexico are the team to beat, and bet on.
Best showing in the Gold Cup was runners-up in 1981 though El Salvador did finish 4th then 5th in 1985 and 1989. But as recently as 2017 they reached the quarter-finals. The national team has a better record parochially, in the Central American and Caribbean games where they twice won gold, 1954 and 2002.
They have few players not home-based; Darwin Ceren is a 30 year old midfielder with Houston Dynamo. He was 59 caps while Denis Pineda, also a midfielder, with Estoril, has 26 international appearances to his name.
El Salvador became the first Central American team to reach a World Cup finals when they qualified for Mexico 1970. They were also the first team from the region to qualify twice as they reached the 1982 tournament in Spain.
The third highest FIFA ranked nation in the Gold Cup, 46th, Costa Rica reached their first World Cup in 1990. Since then they have reached an impressive five out of eight finals, not bad for a nation of just 5 million.
That appearance in Italia `90 followed their CONCACAF title in 1989 but it is in the Copa Centralamericana where they are pre-eminent. They won the title in their first appearance, 1991, and in all they have won eight times out of their 14 appearances to rightly be acclaimed the most successful ever football nation from Central America. They`re the only nation from the region to reach five world cup finals competitions, their best showing being Brazil 2014 where they topped their group which had three former World Champions trailing in their wake; Uruguay, Italy and England.
The bulk of the Costa Rica squad is MLS based though Manfred Ugale, an 18 year old forward with Belgian club Lommel, has just won his first cap. Keylor Navas is their most experienced player, the PSG goalkeeper has 91 caps while Celso Borges, of Deportivo La Coruna, is a goal threat from midfield with 23 goals in his 130 international appearances.
Considering Curaco were ranked 183rd in the world just six years ago to improve by more than a hundred places, to 80th , speaks volumes for their development on the international stage. They first entered the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2017 and two years later reached the quarter-finals.
Their recent playing record shows just one defeat, 2-1 to Costa Rica, at home, although they did play out a 0-0 draw with the same opponents. They also drew 1-1 with Haiti and beat them 1-0.
Brothers Leandro and Juninho Bacuna both ply their trade in the UK, Cardiff and Huddersfield respectively, while there is much potential with 18 year old PSV goalkeeper Tyrick Bodak. A third UK based player is 24 year old Coventry winger Gervane Kasta Neer.
The best performance by Martinique, ranked 95 by FIFA, in the Gold Cup saw them reach the quarter-finals in 2002 where they lost 6-5 to Canada, on penalties. The nation`s best performance on the international stage was when they won the Caribbean Cup in 1993 having twice won its precursor the CFU Championship.
Defender Jordy Delem, a 27 year old midfielder with Seattle Sounders, is Martinique`s highest profile player with 46 caps and seven international goals to his name having featured for his country in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2013, 2017 and 2019.
Probably his greatest moment, and his country, was when he scored one of Martinique`s two goals when they narrowly lost 3-2 to Mexico last year.
Suriname are currently ranked 141st in the world, a drop of sixty places, since their highest ranking of 84, which was in 2008.
The nation has made two appearances in the Gold Cup, the first being in 1977 when they achieved their best showing, 6th place.
One of the founding members of CONCACAF, IN 1961, Suriname won the CFU in 1978 and were runners up the following year.
It is a nation famous for producing truly world class players such as Ruud Gullit, Frank Rickaard, Clarence Seedorf and the Liverpool duo of Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Suriname has never qualified for a Wold Cup finals. Their best showing was in 1978 when they reached the final groups stage. On 19th November 2019 Suriname qualified for the 2021 edition of the Gold Cup by beating Nicaragua 2-1. This will be their debut in the competition proper and the first appearance in a CONCACAF tournament since 1985.
Their best known player is 25 year old Slovan Bratislava centre back Myenty Abena. Although he has yet to be capped he has won the Slovak FA Cup twice, with different clubs, Spartak Trnava and his current team, in successive years.
Ranked 81st in the world it has been a real fall from grace for Panama because just six years ago they were 29th. That was in 2014 and four years later they were appearing in their first ever World Cup, Russia 2018. Although they failed to make it out of the group stage they managed their first World Cup goal, against England, who ran out eventual winners 6-1.
By then Panama had achieved their best showing in the Gold Cup, 2005 and 2013, when they finished runners-up to the USA, on both occasions.
Their best known player is 34 year old skipper Roman Torres, the Seattle Sounders defender who has won 119 caps and scored a far from shabby ten international goals.
The hosts for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be competing as guests in the Gold Cup as part of their warm-up preparations for the first ever Arab finals.
It has taken Qatar 10 years to reach their current FIFA ranking of 55 though they have slipped in recent years as they were as high as 51st in 1993.
When they stage the next World Cup it will be their country`s debut and it will be the first time a host nation has debuted having never previously competed in a World Cup.
Qatar came close to qualifying for France 1998 but needing to win their final game v Saudi Arabia they went down 1-0. They then won seven and lost just one of their qualifying games for Russia 2018 but in Round 3 they finished bottom of their group ensuring a painstaking wait for a first World Cup finals on home soil.
Star man for Qatar will be 36 year old striker and top scorer, Uruguayan-born Sebastian Soria. He leads the Qatar scoring chart with 40 goals in 123 international appearances and still holds the record for ther fastest ever AFC Champions League goal, NINE seconds, set in 2013, when playing for Lekhwiya.
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association.