Group A in the 2013 Gold Cup consists of Mexico, Canada, Panama, and Martinique with the games being played in Pasadena, Seattle and Denver. Mexico look like the clear favorites in this group, but team selection and recent results may lead to an upset.
Let’s take a closer look at this group and the individual teams.
The team is going through a rough time, losing their first two games in the Confederations Cup where stars such as Guardado, Javier Hernandez and Dos Santos played. The team representing Mexico at the Gold Cup is a composite of mostly young Mexican Primera Division players; none of Mexico’s veteran players will be competing, exemplified by the fact that only one player in their Gold Cup squad has more than 10 caps for the country. The Mexican media feels that leaving the stars at home is a further blow to the nation, believing that winning the Gold Cup will boost confidence among players.
The excitement for this crop of players is borne out of frustration from the failures of the qualifying campaign in which they have mustered only 1 win and 5 draws. Another exciting factor is the return of the Olympic stars. Although Olympic players like Herrara and Aquino have become regulars in the senior team and played in the Confederations Cup, others like Jimenez, Fabian and Cortes will be featuring in the Gold Cup. Despite the weakened starting line-up, many of these players will have a point to prove, so some strong performances are to be expected.
Players to Watch – Raul Jimenez is young, quick and helped Club America win the Liguilla this year, even scoring one of his penalties in the shootout. He also helped the Mexican team win Olympic Gold and narrowly missed out on the Confederations Cup. The other player to watch is Israel Jimenez, an excellent right back that was a key member in Monterrey’s Clausura topping season.
In a country where ice hockey is king and Gretzky is God, soccer has not been able to break the ice. Canada’s continuous downward spiral from the time they qualified for the World Cup in 1986 has left the sport in a terrible place. Canada’s coach has decided to focus on youth and included some MLS players, but there are many more in youth teams around the world.
Perhaps the most famous face of Canadian soccer, Dwayne De Rosario, was dropped for the Gold Cup and at his age, 35, this may be an understandable move. Canada has won the cup previously in 2000, but their failings in the CONCACAF region are plain to see; they have not made the last round of the qualifiers since 1998. Turning to unknown youth players may be a positive step, but a sudden jump into the cold water for many of these players may either encourage them or scar them forever.
Players to Watch – Simeon Jackson is known to most Premier League viewers when he is playing for Norwich City. The majority of his appearances came from the substitute’s bench this season, but he is a sharp player in front of goal and one of the few Canadians that has reached the top level through perseverance and an excellent goal scoring record in the Championship. Jackson, currently without a club, will also be playing for a new contract and this should motivate him further. Jonathan Osorio is another player that should shine at this Gold Cup. The young midfielder is not only a hometown hero at Toronto FC, his field of vision and range of passing is excellent. He generally plays in a traditional central midfielder role and gets into the box, but he can also be used on the wings.
Panama has an up-and-coming team and they should be able to challenge in the Gold Cup and perhaps even reach the semi-finals. The team is currently still competing for a World Cup spot and are fifth in the group of six with 6 points. If they can secure a fourth place finish, it will allow them to play a play-off game against New Zealand.
Panama is known as a baseball nation, but their recent success on the world stage in soccer is slowly converting the population. Their Gold Cup record in recent years has been very promising, reaching the semi-finals in 2011 after topping their group that included the United States. Unfortunately, the theme of this Gold Cup has been to leave the stars at home and this is exactly what Panama has done. With one eye on Brazil, they have opted to leave superstar Luis “Matador” Tejada behind in order to rest him for the upcoming qualification games against Honduras and Jamaica, both winnable games in the eyes of the Panamanians. Their squad, however, is not as depleted as Mexico’s having included many of their regular national team players.
Players to watch: Blas Perez is one of Panama’s most accomplished players and has been a prolific scorer while at FC Dallas. He is close behind Tejada’s goalscoring (35) record with 29 goals and is in good form. Including him shows that the country wants to get out of the group and perhaps push for an appearance at the Final. Alberto Quintero Medina is another great player and is an accomplished goal scorer from the midfield. He has been a key player in Panama’s recent success and at 25, still has a long way to push his country to the first world cup.
This team is not an independent nation and not a member of FIFA. The island is ruled by France and exists as an overseas department and its players qualify for the national team through French citizenship. The country does not have much history in the soccer world besides winning the Caribbean Cup in 1993, so this won’t be their first appearance at the Gold Cup. The team participated in three Gold Cups to date and made it to the quarter finals in 2002. This will be their first appearance in 10 years and no one is expecting them to qualify for the knockout stages. They finished fourth in the Caribbean Cup, topping their group, which included Caribbean heavy-weights Cuba and Jamaica. Martinique should not be underestimated, but their group makes it hard for anyone to imagine that they have a chance.
Players to Watch – Frederic Piquionne is perhaps best known for his string of great performances for a struggling West Ham side as well as helping Portsmouth reach the FA Cup Final. He is by far the team’s best players and perhaps one of the most accomplished players at this tournament, too bad he plays for such a minnow.
Based on recent results and the teams selected, first place may be hard to predict. Mexico and Panama drew recently in a World Cup qualifier and everyone is expecting both to make the next round. Canada faced Panama in the third round of the World Cup qualifiers and shared the spoils, each team winning one game, but with Canada’s inexperienced squad and Panama’s continuous improvement, odds are in favor of the Central American team. First place is between Mexico and Panama, with Canada finishing third and Martinique last with 0 points.