The 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup group stage has come to and end. The matchups for the quarterfinals are set and we are poised for an interesting knockout round, which may be more up in the air than usual. Two teams in particular have really risen their play and are looking to tip the scales on the traditional powers. Panama is one, certainly a team on the upswing, Jamaica being the other. The Reggae Boyz joined Mexico in being the only two teams to get maximum points in the group stage.
There weren’t too many surprises in regards to the final eight teams, with the exception of El Salvador. However, the way the group standings ultimately played out did feature an unexpected element … Group C … no United States at the top. All in all, though much turned out as predicted, there was still plenty of excitement (as well as blowouts) and intrigue hung around until the final day of group play.
Before we head on to the knockout stages … let’s take a brief look at what got us to this point.
Mexico and Costa Rica both finished first and second as was expected, while El Salvador earned a semi – surprise third place advancement. Cuba came in with little to no expectations and in addition to being one of the tourney’s two whipping posts, again were unable to return home with the same amount of players as entering.
Mexico came into the tournament as the favorite, (or co – favorite with the U.S.) depending on who you were talking with. They did absolutely nothing to dispel this notion and everything to enhance it. If their were any doubts as to who the favorites are, they should be gone by now. While the U.S. struggled compared to normal performances in the group, Mexico ran through their opposition like a hot knife through butter. Not only does Mexico feature the most talented squad in the Gold Cup, they won convincingly even against Costa Rica. After thrashing both El Salvador and Cuba 5 – 0, El Tri put on a clinic against Costa Rica, punishing the Ticos 4 – 1. With a plus 13 goal differential, 9 points and only one goal conceded in three matches, Mexico is downright scary.
Costa Rica finished in 2nd place with 4 points and only goal differential separating them from the Salvadorenos. In fact the Ticos were lucky even to be at this point needing, a last minute stoppage time equalizer against El Salvador just to finish in 2nd. With teams like Panama, Honduras and Jamaica on the rise, perhaps the days of Costa Rica being the region’s de facto number 3 team are over. Costa Rica is never quite the same as at home and with Honduras on the horizon, they may be returning there sooner than expected.