GOLD CUP 2015 – Klinsmanns USA machine start favourites
This week see’s the start of the 2015 Gold Cup, which is essence the CONCACAF Federation championship. Held every two years this will be the 23rd championship and it is the 13th time that it has been held as the Gold Cup. The reigning champions are the USA who defeated Panama, something of a surprise package in 2013, and on recent form they are strong favorites to retain their title. The tournament will be held across 14 venues in the USA and Canada with the final being held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on the 26th July. The winners of the competition go into a play off the victors of which will qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup due to be held in Russia. However, fear not USA fans. If the USA win the 2015 tournament they will not need to play themselves but instead will go straight to the Confederations Cup.
The 2015 tournament see’s 12 teams split into 3 groups of 4 where they play each other on a round robin basis. The top 2 in each group qualify for the knock out phase with the 2 best 3rd place teams also making the next stage. Note that the rankings used throughout this article were taken from the June FIFA rankings table and the new rankings issued on the 9th July can be found on the link below.
All you need to know on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, including latest standings, news and the best movers.
Group A – USA, Panama, Haiti & Honduras
Being one of the hosts and the holders, the 5 time champions USA are the overwhelming favourites and are top seeds in group A. Coming off recent victories against strong Netherlands and German sides, coach Jurgen Klinsmann is beginning to establish an impressive side in the mold of the infamous German machine. His willingness to take the team to Europe to play the strong sides is reaping great rewards and something that many of his predecessors seemed unable or unwilling to do. It is perhaps surprising that despite their recent run of form they were the lowest world ranked team of the top 3 seeds in the June Fifa world ratings at 27. Captained by Michael Bradley, the USA kick off their tournament against Honduras on the 7th July. They will have Aston Villa based Brad Guzan in goal and have a good mix of European and MLS based players throughout their roster. They are a good balance of youth and experience with the likes of John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Timmy Chandler being ones for the future whereas Bradley, Altidore and Dempsey provide the experience and leadership. The powerful Altidore and Dempsey will be expected to provide the goals but in truth Klinsmann has built a side that carries a goal threat throughout and who are very hard to beat. Their never say die spirit was evident at last summers world cup and so long as they do not underestimate their opponents, which Klinsmann will not allow, they should progress as group winners.
Ranked 75 in the world Honduras are the USA’s first opponents. They will undoubtably be a physical but athletic side who are perhaps susceptable to moments of ill discipline as we saw in last years World Cup. Boasting the likes of Alfredo Mejia, Andy Najar and Maynor Figueroa they also have a good balance of youth and experience and they will be a hard side to play against. This is a team that has made the last two world cups and so they should not be underestimated. They have competed in the competition 17 times and won it 1981 but it is unlikely that feat will be repeated in 2015. Goals may be their problem but perhaps look out for Anthony Lozano as their main goal threat.
2013 finalists Panama are the 3rd team in the group. Nicknamed the Red Tide and currently ranked 54 in the world, the team have played in the Gold Cup on 6 occasions also being runners up in 2005. FC Dallas’ Blas Perez and all time top scorer Luis Tejada, who plays club football in Peru, provide the goal threat and in addition to their fine performance in 2013, they were less then 2 minutes away from making the play offs for the 2014 World Cup before conceding twice and being knocked out. Their progression in the tournament will likely depend on their match versus Honduras and I feel their experience will be too strong and would expect to see them progress as group runners up.
In theory Haiti should be the whipping boys of the group. Just show up and collect 3pts right? However, underestimate them at your peril. Haiti won the competition in 1973, in it's pre Gold Cup days, and have the honor of being the opponents for the first official FIFA sanctioned match Kosovo played which ended in a 0-0 draw. As recently as September 2014 they only lost 1-0 to 2015 Copa America champions Chile and were ranked 38 in the world in the FIFA rankings in January 2013. Currently they rank 76 and their side consists of a mix of players based at clubs throughout the world with Argentina, Poland, Belgium, USA, Russia and Malaysia being a few of the locations. Only Ronald Elusma, the 3rd choice goalkeeper, plays his club football in Haiti. Captained by goalkeeper Johnny Placide, who plays his football in France, much will be expected of forwards Kervens Belfort, who boasts and impressive 10 goals in 18 games and Cypriot based Jean-Eudes Maurice, who spent 7 years at PSG. Also watch for Jean Sony Alcenat, who plays in Romania, and the impressively named Wilde Donald Guerrier who plays for Wislaw Krakow in Poland. Haiti open with a match against Panama but it will be their match against Honduras that will determine if Les Grenadiers progress beyond the group stages.
Group B - Costa Rica, Jamaica, Canada & El Salvador
On July 8th Costa Rica open group B play with their match against the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica. In 1999 Costa Rica gave the Jamaican an 8-0 thrashing which remains the Jamaican's biggest defeat. It is unlikely there will be a repeat despite the gulf in rankings. In June Costa Rica were ranked 14th in the FIFA rankings and were the highest ranked team in the competition whereas Jamaica had a ranking of 65. Coached by the legendary Paulo Wanchope and Captained by Bryan Ruiz, La Tricolor showed at the 2014 world cup that they are a force to reckon with and surprised many only getting eliminated after a penalty shootout against Louis Van Gaal's dutch side. In Wanchope, they have a manager of top level experience and this will no doubt help them. Many English Premier League fans will remember the brilliant goal he scored in the late 90's against Man Utd. Costa Rican players have a habit of hurting the 20 time English Champions with Joel Campbell, an Arsenal loanee, scoring as Olympiakos beat them 2-0 in the champions league knockout match in 2014. In Ruiz and Campbell, Costa Rica carry a decent goal threat and also look for goals from Real Salt Lake based Alvaro Saborio and Celso Borges who plays for Deportivo La Coruna in Spain. Unfortunately their goalkeeper, Real Madrid's Keylor Navas, will miss his second consecutive tournament through injury and being the number one, Costa Rica will likely rely on Patrick Pemberton. Despite this setback it is hard to think that they will not progress as group winners.
Jamaica are coming off the back of an impressive showing in the Copa America where they played as an invited team. Despite not winning a game or scoring a goal, they only lost 1-0 in each fixture but given that the opposition consisted of Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina, latter two who made the semi final and final respectively, they can take a lot of credit for their performance. Provided they can start scoring some goals, the current Carribean Cup champions should not be underestimated. They are an athletic and powerful side and the goal threat likely will come from Giles Barnes and Darren Mattocks who both play in the MLS. In the midfield watch for Jobi McAnuff and Rodolph Austin who play in the lower leagues in England whereas at the back, English Premier League players Adrian Mariappa and Wes Morgan provide the steel. Expect Jamaica to come out of the group in second place providing they can score.
Canada are joint hosts of the competition and ranked 109 in the world. They have won the competition twice the last time being 15 years ago in 2000. Much will be expected from midfielder and captain Julian De Guzman whereas up front Simeon Jackson and Tosaint Ricketts, the Hapoel Haifa striker, will be expected to score the goals. Jackson is an interesting player. Born in Jamaica, he was an integral member of the Norwich City side that was promoted to the English Premier League in 2011. Previously he scored a goal at Wembley stadium which gave Gillingham promotion to League 1 in England in 2009. He has 44 appearances for Canada scoring 6 goals, 3 of which came against St Lucia in 2011. He has failed to score since but his record indicates he is a big game player so with Canada as hosts perhaps this is he arena. Of the forwards, also watch for youngsters Tesho Akindele and Cyle Larin.
El Salvador make up group B and I expect them to battle it out with Canada for 3rd place. Ranked 89 in the world they will need forwards Rafael Burgos and Nelson Bonilla, who play their club football in Norway and Romania respectively to score their goals. In early June they only lost 1-0 to Chile and prior to that only lost 2-1 to Argentina so they could spring a surprise or two if they are not taken seriously.
WANCHOPE SCORES HIS FAMOUS GOAL AGAINST MAN UTD
Group C - Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala & Trinidad & Tobago
Ranked 23 in the world, 9 time CONCACAF and Gold Cup champions Mexico are the undoubted favorites for group C. Captained by PSV Eindhoven's Andres Guardado, El Tri suffered a huge blow when star striker Javier Hernandez was ruled out of the tournament with a fractured collarbone. Much will be expected therefore of enigmatic star Giovani dos Santos. Now playing his football in Spain for Villareal, Dos Santos is an attacking midfielder who on his day can change a game. It is consistency and focus that has been an issue for the one time Barcelona star. Whilst at English side Tottenham Hotspur, the manager Harry Redknapp was quoted by the Daily Star as saying "If he could pass a nightclub as well as he can pass a ball, he would be all right". Mexico will need dos Santos at the top of his game if they are to do well in the competition. In goal Ochoa will be trying to emulate his form of last summers world cup. Mexico open against Cuba and will be expecting to get off to a comfortable start. They recently played in the Copa America and were eliminated in the group stage but this will be a different side so do not be fooled by that form.
Cuba, ranked 107, certainly have their work cut out against the Mexicans and it is hard to see them escaping from this group. Their entire squad plays their football in Cuba and this lack of experience likely will make things difficult for them. They will be athletic and physical and do watch for goalscoring midfielder Ariel Martinez. Last year they did play Guatemala in a friendly only losing 1-0 but I expect the other sides in the group will be using the Cuba game to boast goal difference.
Guatemala last won the competition in 1967 and it is hard to expect a repeat given their current ranking of 93. Nonetheless I expect them to battle Trinidad for 2nd and their opening game against the Soca Warriors will certainly decide who will not have to enter the roulette of a 3rd place finish. Pick of their players is undoubtedly 35 year old Carlos Ruiz who has made 116 appearances scoring 57 goals. He has played his football throughout North and Central America and MLS fans will remember him from his time with LA Galaxy and Dallas where he scored an impressive 87 goals in 156 appearances. Ruiz has always scored goals and is currently playing for local side Municipal, where he started his career, He remains an iconic figure and much will be expected if La Bicolor are to progress.
The final side in the competition are Trinidad and Tobago. Currently ranked 67 in the world by FIFA , they are probably best known for producing former Manchester United star Dwight York and they also hold the record for the smallest nation ever to appear at a world cup finals tournament, going to Germany in 2006. Currently captained by English Premier League star Kenwyne Jones, he will also be the man expected to get the goals. Watch for Ataullah Guerra and Lester Peltier in the midfield who play for Central and Slovan Bratislava respectively.
GIOVANI DOS SANTOS
KNOCKOUT AND EVENTUAL CHAMPIONS
I expect the USA and Panama to make it out of group A, Costa Rica and Jamaica from group B and Mexico and Guatemala from group C. I am going for Honduras and Trinidad to take the 2 third places. My tip for the title, I can't look further then the USA side with Klinsmann creating a well oiled machine which has home advantage. My outsiders would be Costa Rica purely based on last years World Cup form and how they made themselves so hard to beat. It is possible that Costa Rica will play the USA in the semi final which could be a match to savor. Enjoy the tournament!