The eagerly anticipated 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup commences next month – I set the scene and run the rule over Group A in the first part of this two-part series…
This year’s prestigious Gold Cup is the 12th edition of the competition and kicks off on 7 July, spanning over a period of 21 days. United States are the hosts, with matches set to be played across 13 host cities including venues such as the Rose Bowl in California and Soldier Field in Chicago.
It’s notorious for its lively, vibrant atmosphere and provides a genuine platform for the very best in CONCACAF to express themselves. US TV station Fox Soccer are showing every single match live and Canada’s Sportsnet are also broadcasting a wide array of fixtures/highlights. The tournament will receive worldwide attention and that’s why here at The Home of Caribbean Football, we are so delighted that there will be four Caribbean representatives.
The Caribbean participants qualified through their 2012 Caribbean Cup finishes – Cuba (winners), Trinidad & Tobago (runners-up), Haiti (third) and Martinique (fourth). Jamaica and Antigua both finished bottom of their respective groups so failed to progress, raising a few eyebrows.
Over this two-part preview, we go through the groups, analyse strengths and weaknesses, size up the enemy and even get the view from inside. But in the first part, we look ahead to Group A, naturally detailing Martinique in a bit more length…
Manager: Patrick Cavelan
Opening fixture: v Canada 07/07/13 (Rose Bowl)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Quarterfinals (2002)
Chances of success? Rather limited. Martinique are one of the weakest teams at the tournament but national pride is at stake so that is a motivating factor. They’re in a taxing group as Mexico and Canada are tipped as favourites to win and Panama have been excelling in recent World Cup qualifying. Their best ever finish came 12 years ago when they lost to Canada on penalties in the quarter-finals. It would be massively against the odds for Martinique to finish at that stage this time around.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? The island’s federation have been working astutely behind the scenes to recruit several newcomers to the squad: most notably Yoann Arquin (see above) of Notts County, Sporting Gijon defender Grégory Arnolin and Bordeaux shot stopper Kevin Olimpa. Reportedly, Martinique even tried to persuade former French international Thierry Henry – who is of Martinique heritage – to join the setup but CONCACAF never responded to the federation’s request. That would have been some coup. The majority of the squad are local-based and there isn’t a great deal of depth to choose from. It’s sure to be the side’s never-say-die attitude and work ethic that will help them throughout.
The island’s federation tried to persuade the great Thierry Henry to join the setup but nothing came to pass
Key players? Offensively, Martinique have an abundance of options in Riviere-Pilote attacker Kevin Parsemain – the county’s all-time top scorer with 22 goals – former West Ham outcast Frederic Piquionne who is now with Portland Timbers and Arquin, 25, who has been likened to Nicolas Anelka in his style of play. Parsemain, in particular, is a real menace with his inherent sense of balance and appreciation of the pass.
System? Martinique are likely to put the onus on the attack with Parsemain playing off Piquionne. Their defence was effective in the group stages of the Caribbean Cup last year as only one goal was conceded in three matches (retaining clean sheet v Cuba and Jamaica). But one would expect the backline to be severely more tested in the Gold Cup as the calibre of frontlines are a whole lot stronger. Cavelan will have to rotate when necessary and work with what he’s got.
Manager: José Manuel de la Torre
Opening fixture: v Panama 07/07/13 (Rose Bowl)
Previous best performance in Gold Cup: Champions on six occasions
Chances of success? Very high. Mexico are red hot favourites given the talent of the squad (see above) and expectations are huge from supporters. They won the last edition of the event, in 2011, by beating United States 2-4 in the Final courtesy of goals from Pablo Barrera (2), Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos. ‘El Tri’ are set to feature in the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup which is to be held in Brazil, beginning on 15 June. That should give us a taster of what to expect at the Gold Cup.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? Mexico have opted for a squad made up of entirely domestic-based players. There is a plethora of players with international experience, Olympic gold-medal winning status and those who are yearning for a chance to make a mark and break into the team. Surprisingly, there is no room for Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez, former Tottenham winger Dos Santos, veteran Carlos Salcido or usual goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Mexico won the 2011 edition and are red hot favourites to win this year
Key players? Omar Bravo, a striker for Cruz Azul who has been on loan to Atlas, is one of the selection’s more experienced members. There is also a strong chore of Monterrey players: goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco and defenders Darvin Chávez and Leobardo López
The View from the Inside: “The graduation of a generation of Mexico’s Olympic gold medal winning stars is taking longer than predicted, but could be sped up by recent poor displays by the senior squad. The likes of Jorge Enriquez, Marco Fabian, Israel Jimenez and Miguel Ponce have stalled recently. The Gold Cup is important to Mexico, but the over-riding goal at present is forging a team to reach the quarterfinals of Brazil 2014 as minimum.” Tom Marshall (Mexican football writer for ESPN, Goal & Mexican Soccer Show Host)
Manager: Colin Miller (Interim)
Opening fixture: v Martinique 07/07/13 (Rose Bowl)
Best previous performance in Gold Cup: Champion (2000)
Chances of success? Should look to progress past group stages. The manager Miller is only interim and that rarely bodes well for the players and the team’s fortunes on the field (one-off being Rafael Benetiz with Chelsea). They’ve appeared in the Gold Cup on 11 previous occasions and clinched the trophy in 2000, but their glory days seem long gone and this tournament will be about trying to gel together and get used to the coach’s principles, rather than seriously challenge for the Cup.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? The old guard is no more: 35-year-old Dwayne De Rosario and 30-year-old Atiba Hutchinson have both been overlooked. 32-year-old Julian de Guzman (see above) will add much-needed experience and there is some goal threat in attack with former Norwich speedster Simeon Jackson – who is a free agent – in contention to start. 13 players in the squad are aged 25 or under.
They last clinched the Gold Cup in 2000 but this tournament will be about gelling together, not silverware
Key players? Unattached De Guzman has over 60 caps for Canada and is a creative midfielder, left-back David Edgar, 26, plys his trade in England’s second tier with Burnley and Jackson’s pace and mobility will come in useful when the Canadians seek an outlet when under pressure.
The View from the Inside: “Canada is a side caught in transition, between past and future – with neither particularly bright. Struggling with internal divisions that hold up crucial changes at the grassroots and external pressures that lure top talents elsewhere, the nation stumbles into the tournament still smarting from that loss in Honduras, 8-1. This Gold Cup will be about garnering experience, not glory.” James Grossi (contributor to The Blizzard, The Shin Guardian & more)
Manager: Julio Dely Valdés
Opening fixture: v Mexico 07/07/13 (Rose Bowl)
Best previous performance in Gold Cup: Runner-up (2005)
Chances of success? Football in Panama is on the rise. They reached their highest ever FIFA Ranking in April this year (38), are the surprise package of Hexagonal World Cup qualifying with six points in four outings and are perhaps dark horses heading into the Gold Cup.
Strength of squad (23-man roster)? The national side’s skipper, Felipe Baloy, is the heartbeat of the team but isn’t travelling to the US. We can only assume his club commitments have got in the way. Their World Cup qualifying statistics are impressive: they’re yet to lose in the Hex and have netted the joint highest amount of goals in the group so far along with Costa Rica. All in all, the squad is above average.
Perhaps dark horses, Panama have been impressive in World Cup qualifying and are scoring regularly
Key players? FC Dallas’ Blas Peréz will provide the main goal threat, with 85-cap Gabriel Enrique Gómez – who plays his club football in Colombia with Junior de Barranquilla -pulling the strings in midfield. 13 group members are domestic-based.
The View from the Inside: “A 3-1 win over Guatemala in the Copa Centroamericana fifth-place play-off saw Panama book their place at the Gold Cup. Mexico will rightly begin as favourites in Group A; Panama will have to battle Canada for second place, ahead of minnows Martinique. Los Canaleros coach Julio Dely Valdés himself knows what it takes to succeed at the Gold Cup, having played in Panama’s run to the final in 2005.” Dan Rawley (owner of world football blog http://drawley.wordpress.com/)
By Nathan Carr
Thank you for reading! Feel free to leave any constructive feedback in the comments box below. Special thanks to Tom Marshall, James Grossi and Dan Rawley for their extended views on the respective countries. All stats/figures used are correct at time of publishing. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming out soon. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.