Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lesser Known Happenings in CONCACAF

Not too many people follow the day-to-day happenings in CONCACAF. I'm talking about the youth tournaments, Gold Cup qualifying, etc. But all that stuff is going on currently, and it's exciting to follow, even if the USA's involvement is months away.

1) Gold Cup qualifying. USA, Canada, and Mexico qualify automatically. Four teams from Central America and three from the Caribbean qualify.

Already, the Digicel Caribbean Cup is underway to determine their representatives and crown a regional champion (there's even a jingle about the cup, which you absolutely MUST listen to). It starts out with 24 teams in 6 groups, and after two rounds, 7 teams will join hosts Trinidad & Tobago for the finals in early 2007 (schedule). The results are posted at CONCACAF's site.

The first two opening round groups have been completed (standings), and there's been some interesting news. Guyana appears to be improved and easily won all three of their games, while the Turks & Caicos Islands recorded their first win ever in their short history, coming against the Cayman Islands. The Turks are led by former LA/Dallas forward Gavin Glinton, who now plays for Charleston in the USL-1. The team's 2006 World Cup qualification campaign was the subject of a fascinating story by Peter Goldstein on Planet World Cup. Although they didn't advance, you can't help but root for them.

Back to Guyana. I have no idea what the cause of their sudden rise is (they recently beat Barbados in a friendly), but with their population of nearly a million, they should be one of the best "Caribbean" teams. Quotes because Guyana is actually part of South America. Despite their good form, they're still a huge underdog to take one of the Gold Cup places. It would be a big surprise if a team other than Trinidad/Jamaica/Haiti/Cuba made it. The only two other teams to make it are Martinique and St. Vincent.

There are so many cool things to follow here. There's the chance to see how the non-FIFA teams like the aforementioned Martinique. They're actually pretty good. It's also a chance to see how the minnows who play like twice a year fair. I don't know any of their players but it's still exciting nonetheless. Everyone knows who the best teams in the world are. The real excitement is watching a Latvia or Trinidad come out of nowhere.

Teams are grouped mostly by region (I'm assuming for financial purposes). Here's two maps (1-2) to get a sense of where each island is. There is one group of death however, with Jamaica, Haiti, and St. Vincent. Kind of unfair to St. Vincent who will probably be doing home early. If I had to guess, the 7 teams making the finals will be:

Barbados, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, and St. Kitts

The UNCAF cup will determine the Central American representatives. It will likely be held in early 2007, around February. Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras are givens, but the fourth spot could be up for grabs. You would expect Panama to beat El Salvador given their recent history, but the tournament will be held in El Salvador. Nicaragua and Belize have no hope.

It appears that the dreaded guest teams will be back for the 2007 Gold Cup. Excited about Colombia? Anyone? I think that CONCACAF should look into inviting either Austria or Switzerland because of their lack of games due to hosting Euro 2008. Maybe both. Ghana is another team that has nothing to do because they're hosting the 2008 African Nations Cup. Any of those three teams would be a great addition to the tournament.

Follow the qualification on this Bigsoccer thread!

2) Qualifying for the U17 and U20 World Cups is currently underway. Due to a recent change, the U17 World Cup has now been expanded to 24 teams, meaning that CONCACAF now will get to qualify four teams in each. Actually, they get five in the U17 because of Mexico's win last year. Mexico qualifies automatically as defending champs.

Each tournament gets pared down to two 4-team groups. For the U17 World Cup, they will be hosted by Honduras and Jamaica in April (?). Canada and the USA join them automatically, while Haiti and Trinidad took the Caribbean places. Interestingly, the Caribbean tournament included Canada and Mexico (who actually won). The final two places from Central America will be decided next month, where former MLS coach Tim Hankinson will lead Guatemala. South Korea will host the final tournament in August 2007. The first teams to qualify were Japan, North Korea, Syria, and Tajikistan (huh?) from Asia.

The U20 World Cup will be a real chance for CONCACAF to do some damage, as it's being held in Canada. Hopefully the US will feel right at home. The final qualification groups will be held in Panama and Mexico (Jan/Feb). They will be joined automatically by the USA, as well as the Central American qualifiers Costa Rica and Guatemala. Eight teams remain in Caribbean qualifying for the final three spots. The final tournament will be held starting June 30, 2007. Already the European teams are known: Austria, Czech Rep., Poland, Portugal, Scotland, and Spain. Looks like some of the heavy hitters didn't make it.

U17 Qualifying
- 4 teams qualify from:

Honduras (host)
Jamaica (host)
2 of Costa Rica/El Salvador/Guatemala/Nicaragua/Panama

(Bigsoccer thread)

U20 Qualifying - 4 teams qualify from:

Costa Rica
Mexico (host)
Panama (host)
3 of Bermuda/Dom. Rep./Haiti/Jamaica/Net. Antilles/St. Kitts/St. Vincent/Trinidad

(Bigsoccer thread)

3) The Champions Cup. Pachucha is one of the eight teams, and the UNCAF club championship is going on currently where three teams qualify.

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