The CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup, to be played this summer in the USA, differs from the rescheduled multi-host Euro and the newly Brazilian-hosted Copa America, in that the Gold Cup was long scheduled to occur this summer while the other two regional tourneys were originally to be played in 2020 but were postponed due to the pandemic.
Since 1991, the competition among the nations of the North America, Central America, and the Caribbean FIFA Confederation, whittles down the potential pool of 41-member association teams to the sixteen which will contest the cup.
The tournament, begun in 1963 as the CONCACAF Championships (1963-1989), was rebranded to the Gold Cup in 1991. In its latest iteration, Mexico has won the tournament eight times, the USA six, and Canada once. This year the competition will be played in the US (in Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Kansas, and Florida) beginning June 10 with a final on August first.
This pandemic year, the tournament has an invited guest, Qatar, who had planned in participating in the Copa America but dropped out, twelve regional qualifiers, and three teams from the qualification tournament still to be determined from among the twelve competing. The already qualified teams of the region are Mexico (the current title holders), the USA, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Canada, Curacao, Panama, Suriname, Grenada, and Martinique, in order of FIFA rankings.
The favorites, Mexico, ranked 11th worldwide by FIFA are nine slots above the USA, ranked 20, then the drop is to number 45, Jamaica, 50 Costa Rica, 67 Honduras, 69 El Salvador and 70 Canada, 76 Curacao, 78 Panama, 83 Haiti, before dropping again for the remaining teams to triple digits.
The tourney’s format is to have four groups of four teams with the top two qualifying for the quarterfinals. Group A has Mexico, El Salvador, Curacao and one qualifier to be decided. Group B has USA, Canada, Martinique, and one qualifier to be decided. Group C has Costa Rica, Jamaica, Suriname and one qualifier to be decided. Group D has Honduras, Panama, Grenada, Qatar, and one qualifier to be decided. If all goes to form, the USA and Mexico would meet in the finals as they are about to do in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League final tonight at 9:00 pm at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver. That match will be the harbinger of things to come later this summer as regardless of who wins the other will be supercharged to make amends.
Few of the FIFA ranked 45 and below crowd are given much chance though upsets are not unknown to this region’s contests—remember Panama, or Trinidad and Tobago? But all teams coming in seem ready and in need of making a good appearance, which bodes well for the competition.
The 2021 Gold Cup pre-tourney buzz is that the established Mexican team, boasting the likes of national team captain Real Betis midfielder Andres Guardado, Napoli striker Hirving Lozano, Atletico Madrid midfielder Hector Herrera, and club America goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, are not impressed with their closest competition, the new generation of USA team members, to the point of affording not to call up mainstay Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez who is having a great year at the LA Galaxy.
On the USA side of that argument are the likes of Barcelona’s Sergino Dest, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Juventus’ Weston McKennie, and Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna, to mention some of the more successful current squad members on the tourney’s roster. But if the lackluster 1-0 squeak of a win against Honduras is any indication the Mexicans may be onto something. On the other hand, if USA coach, Gregg Berhalter, can summon the right mix in time, the best generation of “homegrown” talent since Landon Donovan’s generation might just be true contenders for this tournament. For a team headed into the thick of World Cup 2022 qualifying a victory here would be a huge boost toward participation a cup to be played 18 months hence.
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