Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:58 AM
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It is 18 years since the United States triumphed against Honduras on penalties in the first edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Players change, football improves and stadiums expand, but the fundamental question of this tournament has stayed the same since 1991. Can anyone stop the US or Mexico?
Mexico are the favourites to win the tournament at 11/8. The US, the tournament hosts (bar two games each in Jamaica and Costa Rica), are 6/4. Together the two teams take up nearly 80% of the betting market. Only once, when Canada triumphed in 2000, has another country won. On only three occasions has either failed to make the semi-finals.
While both teams enter the tournament with lots of questions hanging over them - both sides have new managers in Geraldo Martino and Gregg Berhalter - Mexico fully deserve favouritism.
Martino has great pedigree as a manager, having taken charge of Barcelona, as well as Paraguay during their run to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, and Argentina from 2014 to 2016, where he took part in two Copa Americas. His side lost to Chile on penalties in the final on both occasions.
There are a lot of big names missing for Mexico. Explosive winger Hirving Lozano is out through illness, as is Miguel Layun. Javier Hernandez has chosen to miss this competition, while Carlos Vela has completely fallen out with the national team. Influential midfielder Hector Herrera is also missing.
Their friendly performances, however, are great cause for optimism. They have won four out of four and scored 13 goals. And the opponents have been strong in Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Defensively they are strong, with Hector Moreno, Carlos Salcedo and Diego Reyes all classy operators. Up front, Raul Jimenez had a fantastic second half of the season with Wolves, who finished seventh (i.e. ‘best of the rest’) in the English Premier League. At every game they will be backed by huge numbers of fans, largely nullifying their lack of home advantage. It will take a lot to beat them, despite the absentees.
The US are still reeling from their historic failure to qualify for the World Cup. But while the Trinidad game still hurts, there are reasons to be optimistic. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are the big experienced duo in the side, and there is huge potential in a midfield incliding new Chelsea signing Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
At the back, the absence through injury of John Brooks is a major blow. The likely back four is Nick Lima, Matt Miazga, Aaron Long and Tim Ream, which looked terrible in the warm-up defeat to Venezuela. The side were booed off after a 3-0 loss.
Mexico’s clash with Canada and the US’s rematch with Trinidad both look intriguing, but both the heavyweights look very likely to win their groups.
The team ranked most likely to break the duopoly are Costa Rica at 8/1.
An extremely soft-looking group of Haiti, Nicaragua and Bermuda is a big bonus. They are without star keeper Keylor Navas, but his absence did not stop them reaching the semi-finals of the competition in 2017. Mainstays Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz will lead their attack, while FC Cincinnati’s Kendall Watson is a big presence in defence.
However they have declined significantly since reaching the World Cup quarter-finals in 2014 and their squad is ageing. At the price they are easily passed over. Next come Panama at 14/1, but they do not convince either. Several of their most important players extended their international careers to play at last summer’s World Cup, but have since retired, and the next generation may not have their quality. The squad, like Costa Rica’s, is on the old side. On the other hand, New York Red Bull’s Michael Murillo is one of the best young centre-backs in North America, and is likely to catch the eye in this tournament.
Group C looks the most interesting in the initial stages. Two Caribbean teams, Jamaica and Curaçao, are up against two Central American sides, Honduras and El Salvador. And Jamaica and Curaçao look well set to cause upsets, both in the group and in the tournament as a whole.
Jamaica have lost the final on the last two occasions, losing 3-1 to Mexico in 2015 and 2-1 to the US in 2017. Many of the main players in those runs return, including Kemar Lawrence and Darren Mattocks. Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, who has finally accepted his call up to the Reggae Boys, is perhaps the most talented player at the tournament.
They play their first game, against Honduras, at home - and at 6/5 they look great value to get off to the perfect start to the tournament. At 16/1 they look the best bet among the second rank of teams to win the tournament.
Four teams are rank outsiders at 250/1. Three of them - Bermuda, Guyana and Martinique - bring a mixture of semi-professional players plying their trade in weak domestic leagues, and a small handful of players at minor European clubs, often in the second tier (or below) of France, Spain or England.
But the fourth, Curaçao, stand out. Most of their squad plays in the Netherlands, evenly spread between the first and second tiers. The Eredivisie, while seen as soft in comparison to Europe’s biggest leagues, is massively stronger than the leagues of, say, Honduras and El Salvador, where many of their group opponents will play. They have two former Premier League players in Cuco Martina and Leandro Bacuna. They scored 22 goals in qualifying and could make the group a fascinating contest.
They came back from their last Gold Cup run pointless, but their defeats to Jamaica, Mexico and El Salvador were all close. Their likely quarter-final opponents would be the US, but at 250/1 they look well worth a punt to cause one of the biggest shocks in international soccer history.
Prediction: Mexico to win
Mexico at 11/8
Jamaica at 16/1
Curaçao at 250/1