The Comeback, ft. Monterrey, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and Saprissa

Posted on December 7, 2012 6:32 pm

Second, third and fourth chances are the order of the day this weekend. On their second trip to Japan, 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey will attempt to make up for their underwhelming display last year, as well as become the first team from our region to reach the Club World Cup semifinals since 2009. Closer to home, former Caribbean champions Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti will look to complete their recovery from the shock early exits in 2014 World Cup qualifying by reaching the Caribbean Cup semifinals for the first time since 2007. And in Central America, while several traditional powers will look to reach the CCL for yet another year, Deportivo Saprissa will aim to end an unacceptably long absence from the continental stage for a team of its stature.

Before digging into the smorgasbord of matches, we will begin with a light appetizer in Antigua and Barbuda, where the Caribbean Cup finals will kick off with a match between the two teams most eager to restore the natural order of things in the sub-region. Today at 5:00 p.m. (all times EST), Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago will contest the tournament opener, to be followed by the 7:00 p.m. showdown between remaining Group A hopefuls Dominican Republic and Antigua and Barbuda.

Unfortunately, for Caribbean Football Union and Antigua and Barbuda Football Association President Gordon Derrick, the organizational incompetence that has marked his first year in charge of the former body presented itself yet again. From 1:17 on in the above video, Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation cameras catch the groundskeeper arguing with coaches and shooing away the Trinis with a pick-up truck, interrupting the team’s last pregame practice so that he can finish cutting the grass. To be fair, this bit of bush-league administration stands in contrast to yesterday’s announcement that all of the matches will be shown live on the CFU’s own UStream channel. UPDATE: the audio issues have been fixed, although you can also use Total Mix Radio for Haiti’s games and ABS Radio in general. TV Jamaica might also get the rights to their national team matches.

Group B of the Caribbean Cup will commence on Saturday, as Martinique and Cuba reprise a nasty meeting in the previous finals at 4:00 p.m., while defending two-time champions Jamaica begin their title defense against French Guiana at 6:00 p.m. At the same time as the latter match, the second legs of the semifinals will begin in Guatemala: after securing a 1-1 draw on the road in midweek, Comunicaciones will simply need to avoid defeat at home to Malacateco to advance to the Final as the higher seed. Any victory will do for the plucky visitors, though; and after dismissing Champions League quarterfinalists Xelaju 5-3 on aggregate in the previous round, Malacateco will fancy their chances of claiming an even bigger scalp.

While Comunicaciones attempt to make up for missing the current edition of the CCL, two teams that crashed out of it will continue to chase domestic success in El Salvador, as Isidro Metapan receive Aguila at 8:00 p.m. The defending champions (yes, the same team that got blown out by Toronto) let one hand slip from their crown after they lost 1-2 at home to the best Salvadoran club in the CCL era; and with the higher-seed advantage in their back pocket, Metapan will simply have to avoid losing by two in the Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez to reach their third domestic Final in a row.

Are you still with me? Good, because with no fewer than 15 hours of regional football still to cover, motion sickness might set in. We start with the 2012 Club World Cup, where the quarterfinals will begin after J.League winner Sanfrecce Hiroshima dismissed the plucky Oceanic champions Auckland City 1-0 in the play-in game.

Sunday, December 9:

CF Monterrey (CONCACAF/Mexico) vs. Ulsan Hyundai (AFC/South Korea), 2:00 a.m.

Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side come into this game under hardly the best circumstances: they barely reached the Mexican Apertura playoffs, and were eliminated shortly thereafter by eventual champions Tijuana. Furthermore, midfielder Angel Reyna was left at home after falling out favor with Vucetich, pending a possible trade to Chivas, while talisman Humberto Suazo has maintained an almost routine status of “doubtful” ahead of the match. Nonetheless, the rayados failed to even reach the liguilla ahead of last year’s Club World Cup, and yet they only got eliminated by Kashiwa Reysol on penalties. Add in the fact that Mexican teams have never lost to Korean opposition in this competition (Atlante’s 2009 third-place match with Pohang Steelers officially ended in a draw), along with the motivation of grabbing the world’s attention by earning a place in the semifinals against none other than Chelsea, and the hopes of Aldo de Nigris and co. appear not so farfetched.

While they live out the maximum dream of any club in our region, just getting to the Champions League is the holy grail set before Heredia of Guatemala. On Sunday at 12:00 p.m., they will head to the Estadio Mateo Flores for the second leg of their Apertura semifinal with Municipal, after holding the rojos to a 0-0 tie at home. The visitors need a win to reach their first Final in the CCL era, while Municipal simply require a draw or better to continue their stunning streak of reaching every Liga Nacional championship over the same period.

In Honduras, meanwhile, Victoria find themselves only two games away from making their continental debut. Unfortunately for them, local monarchs Olimpia stand in the way, and the underdogs’ first chance to strike at the defending champions will come at 3:00 p.m. in La Ceiba.

Back to the islands: as someone of Haitian heritage, I must admit no shortage of excitement at the opening game in Matchday 2 of the Caribbean Cup. Frankly, my family and friends are still doing double-takes at seeing les voisins alongside us at this stage; but thanks to the experience built up in the elementary round of World Cup qualifying last year, traditional baseball holdouts Dominican Republic (and Nicaragua, whom we’ll cover next month) appear poised to open up just as heated a rivalry with their neighbors as the one the US sparked with Mexico by bloodying their noses in 2001 and 2002. At 4:00 p.m., the biggest-ever Classique d’Hispaniola will take place, as Haiti and the Dominican Republic fight for continental survival. Given that head-to-head is the first tiebreaker in the tournament, one of them may grab the first Caribbean spot in the 2013 Gold Cup; and if the Quisqueyanos manage to pull it off, they will have truly written a new page in their country’s footballing history.

At the same time, over in Costa Rica, Deportivo Saprissa will attempt to get past the semifinals at the third time of asking, as they host Torneo de Verano winners Herediano at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa (available on Teletica’s Canal 7). After securing a 1-1 draw in the first leg, the morados just need to tie (as the higher seed) or win to continue their march towards the first silverware since 2010, while the visitors will look to establish their newfound domestic supremacy by seeing off Saprissa with a victory.

If neither of those showdowns entice you, yet another simultaneous option features Alianza taking on FAS in the Salvadoran Apertura semifinals. Just as with the aforementioned match, a 1-1 draw in the first leg gives Alianza the advantage of moving on as the higher seed with another tie, while FAS are obligated to beat Rodolfo Zelaya and co. outright.

At 6:00 p.m., Caribbean Cup hosts Antigua and Barbuda will face off against Trinidad and Tobago, by which time we will have a clearer idea of if the Benna Boys’ performances in World Cup qualifying (as the only team in the group to reach the semifinal round) can be backed up en route to a potential maiden appearance in the Gold Cup. An hour later, at 7:00 p.m., our attention will once again switch to Central America, as first-time Costa Rican semifinalists Limon pay a visit to the Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto to face Alajuelense. While playing in front of thousands of manudos at the Estadio Nacional represented a major payday for the Caribbean coast representatives, the 0-1 loss forces the limonenses to chase a two-goal victory to extend their best showing since returning to the First Division, although anything less will guarantee a clásico in the Final between “Liga” and whoever survives earlier in the day.

Further north, regular foes Walter Ferreti and Real Esteli will contest the first leg of the Nicaraguan Apertura Final at 8:00 p.m. FutbolNica will provide radio coverage; and given that this game will take place at the Estadio Nacional de la UNAN in Managua, there is a chance that it will be carried on Nicaragua’s Canal 6 (Facebook login required). UPDATE: this encounter has been rescheduled for Monday at 7:00 p.m., to give the Estadio Nacional groundskeepers time to dismantle the set after a concert on Saturday.

Finally, the next Gold Cup qualifier may emerge on Monday, as Group B in the Caribbean Cup continues with Cuba facing French Guiana at 4:00 p.m. and Jamaica crossing swords with Martinique at 6:00 p.m. We will cover the last matchday in its own entry; Monterrey’s second game in the Far East will also be included, and for their sake I hope it matters.

Gold Cup 2013 Qualifiers

1. Mexico
2. USA
3. Canada

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