The “Soca Warriors” were presented with an excellent opportunity to qualify for the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup football tournament for the second successive edition today after the draw for the 2015 competition was made today in Philadelphia, USA.
The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team were drawn in Group C with six-time Gold Cup champions, Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba and only one nation is certain of elimination. The group winner and runner-up is guaranteed a place in the Gold Cup quarterfinal while two of three third place teams also advance.
Mexico and Jamaica are both competing in the 2015 Copa America, which runs from June 11 to July 4 although the group stage ends on June 21. It is uncertain whether they will send weakened teams to the Gold Cup, which kicks off on July 7 with a double header at the Toyota Stadium, Dallas that pits Panama against Haiti and the United States against either Honduras or French Guiana.
Eight of the 12 participating nations in the 2015 Gold Cup will advance to the quarterfinals.
Arguably, the Warriors got the best possible draw.
Group A comprises of the United States, Panama, Haiti and either Honduras or French Guiana while Group B consists of Costa Rica, Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago is CONCACAF’s fifth ranked team behind Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States and Panama respectively.
However, Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart sounded a cautious note.
“This is the sixth Gold Cup I will be involved in,” Hart told the TTFA Media. “My experience is that on paper versus the field are two different matters. The group must be respected and is a tricky one, especially facing Mexico in the last game.”
The Warriors will kick off their campaign on Soldier Field, Chicago against Guatemala from 7 pm on July 9 before—as has become typical under Jeffrey Webb’s CONCACAF—setting off on a cross-country tour with fixtures in Phoenix against Cuba on July 12 and Charlotte against Mexico on July 15.
Hart believes Trinidad and Tobago’s opener against Guatemala will be key to their success while he revealed that he will use the Gold Cup as practice for the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
“The opening game is crucial, we must strive for consistency and get into the knock out phase,” said Hart. “It is important to prepare well and be in good moments individually and collectively. This is also part of the overall process of preparing for the 2018 World Cup qualification which begins for us in November.”
Trinidad and Tobago has never defeated Mexico at the Gold Cup and lost 4-2 and 4-0 at the 1998 and 2000 editions before a narrow 1-0 quarterfinal defeat against a second string Mexican outfit in the 2013 quarterfinals.
However, it has been 24 years since Guatemala defeated the Warriors in a Gold Cup match. The Central American nation pulled off a surprise to edge Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 in their first tournament meeting in 1991. But the two island republic shot down Guatemala 4-2 in 2000 while, even with a weakened team due to the 2006 World Cup blacklist, the Warriors managed a 1-1 tie in 2007.
Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago have never met at the Gold Cup although their recent battles at regional level have been close. Cuba edged the Warriors 1-0 in extra time in the 2012 Caribbean Cup final while they played to a goalless draw in the 2014 Caribbean Cup.
If Hart’s men advance past the group stage, they will then travel to either Baltimore on July 18 or New York on July 19 for quarterfinal action.
A third place finish in Group C might mean a clash with the Group A winners in Baltimore, which might mean facing either Panama or the United States. If the Warriors are second in Group C, they face the Group B runner-up which is likely to be either Jamaica or Canada.
In the unlikely event that Trinidad and Tobago pip Mexico to the Group C mantle, the Warriors will then tackle the third place team from either Group A or B, which would mean either Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Canada or El Salvador.
Unlike the 2013 Gold Cup, which was held during the business end of the Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers, the confederation’s upcoming tournament is expected to generally showcase full strength teams as CONCACAF nations look for match practice in the build-up to their respective Russia 2018 campaigns.
The Warriors’ Gold Cup preparation starts on March 27 with a warm-up match against Panama at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
“Between now and July, I will continue have a look at the best available players to make up our squad,” said Hart. “The Panama game this month will be ideal to provide an opportunity for potential players to fight for selection. Obviously I will continue to scout the leagues so the challenge for players is to strive for consistency.
“I expect the (Gold Cup) tournament to live up to its usual expectations and of course we will give every effort to ensure our performance is a solid one.”
2015 Gold Cup
Group A: United States, Panama, Haiti and Honduras or French Guiana;
Group B: Costa Rica, Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador;
Group C: Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala and Cuba.
Group C schedule
Trinidad and Tobago vs Guatemala, 7 pm, Soldier Field, Chicago;
Mexico vs Cuba, 9.30 pm, Soldier Field, Chicago;
Trinidad and Tobago vs Cuba, 6.30 pm, University of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix;
Guatemala vs Mexico, 9 pm, University of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix;
Cuba vs Guatemala, 6 pm, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte;
Mexico vs Trinidad and Tobago, 8.30 pm, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte.
CONCACAF Gold Cup nations
FIFA ranking: 13. Costa Rica, 21. Mexico, 32. USA, 61. Panama, 63. Trinidad and Tobago, 76. Jamaica, 77. Haiti, 81. Honduras, 82. Guatemala, 89. El Salvador, 110. Cuba, 116. Canada.
*—French Guiana does not have a FIFA ranking since it is a territory of France.
Editor’s Note: Jamaica football fans and reporters were particularly hard-done by the bizarre 2015 Gold Cup schedule dreamed by CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb and general secretary Enrique Sanz. The “Reggae Boyz” will play three group matches in Los Angeles, Houston and Toronto!