With the CONCACAF Gold Cup scheduled to start on Sunday, here’s a preview of the teams in Group B.
This group includes Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago; games will be played in Harrison NJ, Miami and Houston. This group lacks any of the notable heavyweights, although Honduras has established itself as one of Central America’s best teams.
We will also be privy to the participants of the Football War playing against each other for the first time in Gold Cup history. Back in 1969, Honduras and El Salvador briefly fought a war lasting 100 hours after El Salvador qualified for the 1970 World Cup at the expense of Honduras. The games were marred by violence from the stands and made an already tense relationship between the countries even worse. While the war itself was fought over multiple issues including immigration and land reform, the violence during the playoff against each other boiled over and gave the war its name.
Having competed in two World Cups, one in 1982 and one in 2010, the country has had a lot of success and is a regular at the Gold Cup, often expected to win its group. The team, currently fourth in the World Cup qualifiers, is hoping to make the short trip to Brazil next year. Like many of their competitors vying for a place at the World Cup, Honduras has rested some of their key players. Like Panama though, their team will be including some of their first team regulars. In the last Gold Cup, Honduras stumbled their way into the semi-finals before losing to Mexico in extra time. The team barely qualified from the group with only four points, then went on to beat Costa Rica in penalties before finally succumbing to Mexico.
Players to Watch – Honduras will be arriving without their Premier League stars such as Wilson Palacios, Maynor Figueroa, and Roger Espinoza, but young prospect Roger Rojas will be leading the line. He most recently scored against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier and is one of the country’s up and coming stars often times compared to Humberto Suazo. He can be described as a fox in the box and his goal scoring record for club team Olimpia is phenomenal at a strike rate of one goal every two games. Jorge Claros is another player to look out for, having spent the entire season on loan at Hibernian, he became a key member of the Edinburgh side.
Like Honduras, El Salvador has also qualified for the World Cup twice, but their successes are not as recent as those of Honduras. The country has suffered over the years and so has its football, but despite a full blown civil war, the nation still managed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup, however disappearing from the world stage since then. The war left the footballing institutions in tatters and it has taken a long time to rebuild teams and the infrastructure of the country to support a strong home based league. The team has been able to hang on around the hinges of Central America’s elite, but are currently far behind Honduras and Costa Rica. Their group is not regarded as the most difficult and they should be able to pick up points along the way. A strong showing at the Gold Cup could go a long way to improve football in a country that has always regarded the sport as a religion.
Players to Watch – Like many other teams, El Salvador have opted for youth and left some of their veterans at home. At 27, Oscael Romero is one of the team’s more experienced players and his attacking prowess from the midfield will be much needed. Rafael Burgos will be their man in front of goal, and his recent move to Hungarian side Keckskemeti has proved fruitful for him and tested his abilities on the European continent, a jump not often made by Salvadorian players.
Haiti’s history is rich with football, but unfortunately immense poverty, corruption and the most recent earthquake have all hurt the footballing industry on the island nation. Haiti qualified for the World Cup in 1974 after winning the first edition of the CONCACAF championship played in a league format, by topping the group in controversial fashion against Trinidad & Tobago. The national team benefits from European based players, mostly in France but have yet to make a real push for the World Cup. Haiti qualified for the Gold Cup by placing third in the Caribbean Cup and have been working hard to achieve this feat. They recently played Spain and Italy in high profile friendlies, and surprisingly drew the Italians. Since their World Cup dreams have been shattered in the second round of World Cup qualifiers, placing behind their fellow island nation, Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti will coming into the tournament with a full squad and try to remedy some wrongs.
Players to Watch: He most recently scored against Italy and despite struggling most of his career with injuries; Jean-Phillipe Peguero is the team’s top scorer with 21 goals in 26 games, a fantastic record. Le Mans, the French second division side, brings two Haitians to the Gold Cup, but one is starting to outshine the other. While Jean-Eudes Maurice started his career off brightly, he has since faded from the limelight, and is the second choice striker at the club behind Kervens Belfort, who has dominated headlines back home. At the tender age of 21, he has become his country’s big hope.
Trinidad & Tobago
They have produced some marvelous footballers like Dwight Yorke, Stern John and Shaka Hislop, but the Soca Warriors have been waiting for that new generation of superstars to rise up. The country does not have a large population and its domestic league is relatively poor compared to other CONCACAF teams. Since the World Cup entry in 2006, the population and the FA have expected a lot from this team and they have since made the last stage of the qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup but fell woefully short for the World Cup 2014 campaign, losing in a must win game against Guyana in the second round. Trinidad is bringing a strong team to the Gold Cup in order to boost morale and prepare the players early on for the next World Cup.
Players to Watch: Keon Daniel has had his ups and downs in his career and was not always first choice for the national team, especially after a small rift with the FA. Since then, he has been able to remedy some of the problems and has also been in top form for the Philadelphia Union. Kenwyne Jones has been Dwight Yorke’s natural successor and has made a name for himself in the Premier League as a traditional number 9. With Mark Hughes at the helm at Stoke City, Jones will want to impress in order to gain a starting position with the team next season, especially after he may have lost some face since pig-head gate.
This certainly is the most open ended group and any of the teams have a chance of advancing but Honduras is poised to top the table. Their continued success in the CONCACAF region, combined with some experienced players and a strong home-based league makes them favorites. The push for second will either be won by El Salvador or Trinidad & Tobago; they have not faced each other recently, but Trinidad is arriving with a stronger and more experienced squad, eager to impress after a poor World Cup qualification campaign. Haiti may be everyone’s secret team due to recent humanitarian disasters, but the island nation will be out of its depth in this group and may have to settle for a point.