Gold Cup Qualifiers: At the Edge of the Wilderness
Posted on January 25, 2013 4:58 pm
When the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying came to a close last year, Guatemala began the painful process of adapting to the sobering reality in front of them: while the likes of Honduras could anticipate 10 Hexagonal matches against the continent’s finest, the chapines only had three guaranteed fixtures in their near future. Avoiding two full years of competitive inactivity would only be possible through qualification for the 2013 Gold Cup, a relatively straightforward challenge given their Copa Centroamericana placement alongside Central American Football Union (UNCAF) junior members Nicaragua and Belize.
Replacing the retired frontline duo of Carlos Ruiz and Dwight Pezzarossi proved more difficult than outgoing coach Ever Hugo Almeida anticipated, though: ahead of their last group-stage match against Costa Rica, Guatemala’s entire offensive output consisted of a sloppy own goal conceded by Nicaragua. After neighboring Belize jumped them in the standings on Matchday 3, Minor Lopez and co. understood that the only way to qualify for the Gold Cup outright that evening would be through defeating hosts Costa Rica; but a late surge failed to produce a game-winner, and the otherwise commendable 1-1 draw condemned them to the Fifth-Place Match.
Consider: while Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama will receive extensive coverage during the Hexagonal, and El Salvador will return on our radar during the Gold Cup, this may be the last time we talk about the Guatemalan national team until 2015.
Today, at 4:00 p.m. EST (on Canal 11 and RPC), Guatemala and Panama will face off for the last available berth in the next continental championship; and while the canaleros may not be as desperate to keep themselves active over the calendar year, Julio Cesar Dely Valdes will at least aim to calm the frustrations building up at home over their own participation in the present competition. The Panamanians could justifiably consider themselves unfortunate: had forward Rolando Blackburn brought his shooting boots against El Salvador, or had the referee awarded a spot-kick after Blas Perez got scissored from behind in the Honduran penalty area, they would have spent this morning preparing for a semifinal against Belize and the realistic possibility of winning only their second UNCAF title. Nonetheless, the failure to win a game on the field condemned them to an official draw with El Salvador, in which Lady Luck thumbed her nose at them yet again; and Dely Valdes faced pointed criticism from the fans at home for the underwhelming performance of his side.
It is highly unlikely that a loss today would cost Dely Valdes his job, considering Panama’s stellar World Cup run to date and their semifinal finish in the 2011 Gold Cup. But he will be eager to demonstrate to his detractors that this B-team can function effectively; and the players with few or no World Cup qualifying appearances on their resume will fight for Gold Cup participation as a last opportunity to earn inclusion in a potential World Cup finals squad. Their opponents, however, will be spurred on by the greater motivation of avoiding complete obscurity.
Gold Cup 2013 Qualifiers
4. Trinidad and Tobago
8. Costa Rica
11. El Salvador