Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Rise of CONCACAF
Originally I was going to call this entry "What happened to Mexico?" but I would be selling short the upswing in play by Central America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the so-called group of death that included Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica and Canada proved to be just that. Up until the last minute of yesterday's matches there was a chance that either Jamaica, Honduras or even mighty Mexico might be left out of the final round of World Cup Qualifying. I put an emphasis on "final round" because it highlights the fact that that team would not even make the top 6 of the Hexagonal. The group ended with Honduras on top with 12 points, followed by Mexico with 10 and Jamaica with 10. Mexico went through with its higher goal differential but just the thought that the top team in Concacaf could have been left out was enough for the media to jump on the story and question the Sven Goran Eriksson, the technical staff, the players, and even Mexican soccer in general. My take? Mexico is not to blame. They have more than capable players in elite leagues around Europe even though some of its younger players aren't seeing time on the pitch (Vela, Dos Santos). There is a reason why this group was called the group of death. It's difficult enough to win in Honduras of late, period. Jamaica rarely gives points away at "the Office" (national stadium) and they have a good team as well. This group came down to who took the most points and goals from Canada and how much the top three scored on each other. Jamaica and Mexico came away from Canada with 1 point each while Honduras managed all 3. Ultimately, Mexico's 3-0 rout of Jamaica on Aztec soil was their ticket to the Hexagonal. So put Mexico against Guatemala or El Salvador and their place in the finals would have been assured as it was for Costa Rica and the US.
I think that we need to be more creative in the way we speak about our national teams and how they are the cream of the crop compared to so-called "minnows" of the Concacaf conference. Clearly, Honduras, Jamaica, T&T and Canada are all worthy foes. It will not be an easy run in the Hexagonal for any team and at this point all teams are expendable. Costa Rica's position is a toss-up since they have not played against more demanding foes so we can't be sure what their position will be in the next round. Expect a few surprises and maybe a major upset. Bring on the Hexagonal.