Central America's special year

The 2007 season in Central America boasted a little bit of everything; ranging from the domination of the usual suspects in Costa Rica, to the return to form of the big names in Honduras and El Salvador and a major surprise with small club success in Guatemala.

Starting off with Costa Rica, in recent years the words champions and Club Deportivo Saprissa were synonymous. The mauve-shirted side were favourites from the outset and did not disappoint, defeating Herediano 4-2 on aggregate to land the national title for the 26th time in their sparkling history.

The team, coached by Jeaustin Campos, was never really in trouble in the final showdown. Having already won the away leg 2-0 they were quickly in the ascendancy in the return at the Ricardo Saprissa Stadium, with Try Benneth firing them into the lead and a José Villalobos own-goal making it two. And although Herediano fought tooth and nail to level on the night they had left themselves with too much of a mountain to climb.

Playing solid and effective football, the 'Saprissistas' ran out deserved winners in a campaign which highlighted the talents of Alonso Solís, Walter Centeno and Víctor Cordero, along with Alajuelense's goal king Víctor Núñez, Argentine Diego País of Pérez Zeledón and also the latter's Colombian team-mate Tirso Guío.

A wave of happiness in Honduras
Where Saprissa were unable to confirm their domination was at regional level. Here, Motagua of Honduras surprised their rivals in the Central American Football Union Cup with a dramatic 1-0 win thanks to a strike from Brazilian star Jocimar Nascimento.

But, strangely, the newly-crowned regional champions were off the pace when it came to the national championship, that title going to Maratón, which ended a three-year drought in the process. Coached by Uruguayan Manuel Keosseián, the San Pedro Sula-based team beat Motagua 2-0 with goals from Michael Brown and Costa Rican Erick Scott.

Another top name ending a trophy drought, even longer in its case, was Luis Ángel Firpo of El Salvador. One of Central America's most powerful teams in the final years of the 20th Century and based in the town of Usulutlán, the club won the domestic title seven times between 1989 and 2000 and even managed a 1991 friendly win over Italy's Juventus.

Since then, however, the Pamperos had been unable to revisit glories past, until now. In a dramatic final they saw off a powerful FAS, keeper Juan José Gómez stepping forward as the hero of the hour by saving a shootout penalty from Panamanian Orlando Rodríguez.

The small side's dream
In a Guatemalan championship dominated by giants Comunicaciones and Municipal, the season just-ended saw a new generation of up-and-coming smaller sides emerge to show they can mix it with the best their country has to offer.

After first watching Xelajú take the plaudits in the 2007 Clausura tournament, Guatemalans then saw surprise package Jalapa win the Apertura that followed for the first title in their history. The triumph by the 'Tigers of the Jumay' was hard-fought, as an overall score of one goal apiece over two games against another modest outfit, Suchitepequez, would attest.

Players such as Uruguayan Adrián Apellaniz, the deadly Juan Castillo, keeper Luis Molina and successful coach Julio César González emerged with hero status in what was one of the most improbable outcomes of the year in Central America.

One cannot end without mentioning the exploits of Tauro, unstoppable as they motored to the title in Panama, and the equally strong Real Estelí, who emerged top of the pile in Nicaragua, as well as FC Belize, title-winners in the region's only English-speaking nation.