Gold Cup Qualifiers: The Last Shall Be First…Or Second (Plus: Reaction to Conrad-Gulati)

Posted on January 21, 2013 8:16 pm

When I criticized the Copa Centroamericana last year, longtime reader slaminsams reacted by counseling patience, suggesting that the eventual Fifth-Place Match would get more exciting as Nicaragua and Belize improve their competitiveness. Now that the latest edition is headed towards Matchday 3, with no fewer than four Gold Cup berths still on offer, I have to admit: the fight shown by the erstwhile minnows has even rendered the group stage appealing. The predictability previously associated with the Copa Centroamericana has been thrown out the window; and by the end of tomorrow, the Gold Cup roster may include one of the sub-region’s weaker sisters for only the second time.

Over the weekend, while an underwhelming Costa Rica got the necessary results to solve their group early, the other matches featured underdogs scraping points away from their favored adversaries. Nicaragua and Belize held Guatemala to 1-1 and 0-0 draws, respectively, while El Salvador earned similar results against Honduras and Panama in Group B. The current standings are as follows:

Group A

Costa Rica 6
Guatemala 2
Belize 1
Nicaragua 1

Group B

El Salvador 2
Honduras 1
Panama 1

Before we delve into the qualifying scenarios, a quick review of the format: the top two teams in each group will advance to the Copa Centroamericana semifinals and reach the Gold Cup. Meanwhile, the third-place teams from each group will contest the Fifth-Place Match on Friday, and the winner of that will join the continental elite in July. Also, the tiebreakers (spelled out in Article 10 of the tournament regulations) conform to the CONCACAF standard of prioritizing head-to-head results (points, then goal differential, then goals scored) before taking to account all the matches in the group, with a draw conducted in case teams remain tied.

With that said, here is how tomorrow will play out: Nicaragua and Belize will take the Estadio Nacional first at 5:00 p.m. (all times EST), to be followed by the Group B closer between Panama and Honduras at 7:00 p.m. Lastly, the hosts will toy with Guatemala’s chances of survival at 9:00 p.m., at which point the possible story-endings for the chapines will range from safe passage to the Gold Cup to outright elimination. On the Repretel network, the matches will be shown on Channels 11, 4 and 6, respectively (although an international blackout may be in effect for the first two), while Panama’s RPCTV will cover all three.

For the possibilities in Group B, I’ll let well-informed El Salvador coach Alberto Castillo explain his side’s chances of avoiding the Fifth-Place Match:

The only thing left to do now is wait for the result from Tuesday because after doing the calculations, a goalless tie between Honduras and Panama qualifies us [and Honduras for the Centroamericana semifinals]. A 1-1 tie qualifies Honduras and we’ll have to go to a draw with Panama to see if we qualify, and a tie with more than one goal eliminates us [from the Centroamericana].

Couldn’t have said it better myself. The only thing to add is that if a winner emerges from Honduras-Panama, that team will claim first place, El Salvador will finish second and the loser will have one more shot at reaching the continental stage on Friday.

The scenarios in Group A are more complicated, and the most straightforward manner to address them is from Guatemala’s perspective (anachronistic as it may be).

- If Guatemala win against the ticos, they will finish second, and Belize will take third on goal differential unless Nicaragua defeat them.

- If Guatemala and Costa Rica tie, the winner of Belize-Nicaragua will take second place, while Guatemala will settle for third.

- If both games end in a draw, though, Guatemala will take second and Belize will finish third.

- If Guatemala lose, the winner of Belize-Nicaragua will finish second, while the chapines drop to third.

Now, if Guatemala lose and Belize and Nicaragua draw, all three will finish on two points. Keeping in mind the earlier note on head-to-head (i.e. only the matches between the three will initially be considered), what happens from here will depend on how many goals are scored between the latter two. Thus: assuming a loss for Guatemala, if Belize and Nicaragua tie…

0-0 – Guatemala and Nicaragua will finish even, above Belize in their mini-group on goals scored. Moving on to all group matches: if Guatemala lose to Costa Rica by one, or avoid a shutout and lose by two (e.g. 1-3, 2-4 or more), they will finish second and Nicaragua third; if Guatemala lose by three goals or more, they will drop to third while the pinoleros move up to second. If Guatemala lose exactly 0-2, then a draw will be conducted to decide who gets second and third place.

1-1 – Nicaragua will top the mini-group and take second place on goals scored. Between Guatemala and Belize: if Guatemala lose 0-1 to Costa Rica, a draw will determine who ends up in third and who gets eliminated. If Guatemala lose by one and score (e.g. 1-2, 2-3 or more), they will take third place and go to the Fifth-Place Match. If Guatemala lose by two or more goals, however, they will crash out and Belize will finish third.

2-2 or higher – Nicaragua will finish second, Belize third and Guatemala out.

All clear? Feel free to pass back here at 11:00 p.m. tomorrow, when I will update the Gold Cup qualifiers list and provide explanations as necessary.

Leaving aside the above competition, let me close with a few comments on Jimmy Conrad’s recent interview with US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati.

Gulati clarifies the concerns over the FIFA Calendar by spelling out what I had suspected from the beginning: the main challenge would be the unprecedented step of registering the 2016 tournament under both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. Given the European resistance to confederations inviting guests into their championship, convincing FIFA to make a first-time exception will be an uphill battle.

I’ll have to disagree with Gulati’s emphasis on avoiding player burnout, though; if CONCACAF and CONMEBOL agree to cooperate long-term with the Copa America, the logistical difficulty of preparing for two tournaments in the same summer will become a thing of the past. And while Gulati, Jeffrey Webb and co. continue to include a 2017 Gold Cup on their list of anticipated events, I would have to start questioning their sanity if they fail to recognize the benefits of dropping that off-beat edition in favor of a 2016 Pan-American championship (even after splitting revenues with CONMEBOL).

Lastly, on the US Open Cup: it’s all good and well to point out that the FA Cup and its equivalents around the world are all generally considered inferior to the respective first-division league (except in Canada). And yet, all those other federations manage to get their cup tournaments on TV. Considering how Chuck Blazer once did Major League Soccer a significant favor by steering FIFA towards ESPN’s and Univision’s World Cup rights bids, the USSF could consider tying the US Open Cup to their package of home World Cup qualifiers (for instance, ESPN could have agreed to show at least one US Open Cup match per round on TV and others on ESPN3).

Unfortunately, Conrad did not bring up the controversial topic of commodifying hosting rights in the early rounds of the Open Cup. In particular, I would have asked: if the USSF is fine with the practice, why not automatically award hosting rights in matches between teams from different divisions to the lower one (assuming their home facilities are suitable), so that they all have the choice to host or sell the rights?

Gold Cup 2013 Qualifiers

1. Mexico
2. USA
3. Canada
4. Trinidad and Tobago
5. Haiti
6. Martinique
7. Cuba
8. Costa Rica
9. Honduras
10. Belize
11. El Salvador

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