Guatemala, hosts of the 2000 instalment of the FIFA Futsal World Cup, rode their home advantage to be crowned CONCACAF futsal champions for the first time at the weekend. They beat Cuba on penalties in the final on Sunday 8 June at the Domo Polideportivo in Guatemala City, capping an undefeated stretch of five games at the regional finals.
Guatemala's first regional title came thanks to some snazzy short-passing play and a forward-thinking approach over the course of the six-day, eight-team tournament. They opened their account with a 5-0 rout of Group A rivals Trinidad and Tobago, the outstanding Jose Rafael Gonzalez grabbing a pair of goals. They kept the momentum going with a thrilling 3-3 draw with Mexico in which Estuardo De Leno picked up a brace, before finishing second in the group thanks to another 3-3 draw with Cuba, who just edged them to first place on goal difference.
In Group B, the United States finished top of the heap after wins over Haiti and Costa Rica and a draw with Panama, who finished second with five points from their three pool matches.
The USA, defending futsal champions in the region, were tipped to get the better of Guatemala in their semi-final on Saturday, but the 7000-plus home fans helped tip the contest in the Central Americans' favour. A counter-attacking posture proved an inspired approach for the home side, as they won out 4-0 with the goals shared throughout the team.
The Chapines then went on to meet Cuba, who beat Panama 4-1 in their last four contest, in an anti-climactic final in which both sides were aware of their already-secure passage to the world finals. The score was 3-3 at the end of normal time, and the home team claimed their first-ever CONCACAF futsal title with a 5-3 win in the shootout.
USA sweat it out
While Cuba and Guatemala were able to relax on the final day of competition, Group B winners the United States found themselves in an all-or-nothing play-off after stumbling in their semi-final.
Fortunately for Keith Tozer's men, Panama put up only scant resistance in the third-place match. The Americans, for the first time in the championship, flexed their muscles and hit their true form to win out 7-1.
"Our goal was to come to Guatemala and qualify for the World Championships...and that's what we did," a relieved Tozer said after the game.
Cuba, Guatemala and the USA will now represent North, Central America and the Caribbean at the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Brazil in September and October. The New World trio join up with Thailand, Iran, China and Japan from Asia and Egypt and Libya from Africa. Europe will be represented by Portugal, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Italy and the Czech Republic.
The qualifiers from Oceania and South America will be determined later this month, but Brazil qualify automatically as hosts.