Ticos halt hosts’ charge to top CONCACAF

Costa Rica were crowned futsal champions in CONCACAF on Sunday, beating hosts Guatemala 3-2 in Guatemala City. The win saw the Costa Ricans claim their second futsal title in the region – their first in 12 years – and bring a halt to Guatemala’s nine-game winning streak at home in their raucous Domo Polideportivo.

While the loss came as a blow to the Guatemalans, who have become powers in the five-a-side game in Central America and hosted the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2000, they will join champions Costa Rican in November’s Futsal finals in Thailand.

Panama and Mexico, who finished third and fourth respectively, will also travel to Bangkok, rounding out the four-team field of CONCACAF competitors at this year’s global showpiece.

Jorge Arias was the man of the hour for the Costa Ricans, scoring twice in each half of the final to bring his tally for the competition to five, tied with Guatemala’s Humberto Escobar for second-best marksman. Miguel Lasso of Panama finished top scorer in the tournament with an astounding nine goals to his name.

The Costa Ricans started shakily in their opening match, managing a 4-4 draw with Mexico. They rebounded with a 2-1 win over Cuba before assuring top spot in Group B with a 7-1 hammering of Caribbean minnows St. Kitts and Nevis, enough to edge Mexico to the summit on goal-difference.

The Ticos turned on the style in their semi-final game against the much-improved Panamanians, winning 4-1 and booking their place in the final against the Guatemalans, who had been tearing a swath through the competition up to that point. The hosts opened their account with a 7-3 drubbing of Canada before a 5-2 win over Panama and a slim 2-1 win over USA saw them race to the top of Group A. Their semi-final against Mexico was more of the same for the homeboys – a 3-0 stroll through to a much-anticipated all-Central American final.

Attendance records tumble
Nearly 7,000 fans packed into the hall in Guatemala City for Sunday’s final, in hopes of their hometown heroes winning the day. Despite their disappointment at going down to the Costa Ricans, who played well balanced, patient futsal throughout the competition, the fans made history of their own. The tournament saw the largest crowds ever gathered to watch futsal in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone, attesting to the rising popularity of the indoor game in the region.

“It was great to see so many people in the Domo Polideportivo supporting their team and I have to complement their behavior, it was an example for our region that major events can be hosted in an orderly and secure manner," said Union of Central American Football General Secretary, Mario Monterrosa, who is also Chairman of the CONCACAF Futsal Committee. "The fans attending the matches were part of a world-class show and gave an incredible atmosphere."

The qualification of Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico completes the field of 24 teams for the upcoming world finals in Thailand. Australia, Iran, Japan and Kuwait will represent Asia along with the hosts Thailand, while Egypt, Morocco and Libya will travel from the African continent. Europe will send the Czech Republic, Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine, Italy, Russia and Spain, while the Solomon Islands represent Oceania and South America’s standard is carried by Argentina, Colombia, giants and favourites Brazil, and Paraguay.

No team from the CONCACAF zone has ever won the FIFA Futsal World Cup since its official inception in 1989. Brazil are the all-time leaders with four crowns to their name while Spain are the only other side to have won a futsal world title, managing the feat in 2000 and 2004. The best finish for a CONCACAF side at a Futsal World Cup came in 1989, where Tab Ramos and Peter Vermes helped USA take third.