For teams from the North, Central America and the Caribbean Zone, there can have been few years as intense as 2011. With new-look sides, a pulsating CONCACAF Gold Cup and a dramatic start to qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the region has had more than its share of excitement these last 12 months.
The range of protagonists covers the complete spectrum, from regional champions Mexico to the tiny nation of Antigua and Barbuda who, despite a population of less than 90,000, are among the last 12 teams still in the hunt for a ticket to Brazil 2014.
With the international action now completed there for the year, FIFA.com takes a look back at how the region’s main sides fared in 2011.
If there is one CONCACAF nation that deserves to be singled out this year, then it is Mexico. Under the stewardship of Jose Manuel de la Torre, El Tri lost just one game all year. Moreover, they retained the Gold Cup after a pulsating 4-2 defeat of eternal foes USA in the decider. It came as no surprise then to hear wing wizard Andres Guardado sum it up thus: “This year we were beyond reproach, although the real test is yet to come with the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.”
Another team who will look back fondly on 2011 are Panama. Los Canaleros beat USA [2-1] for the first time in their history at June’s Gold Cup, where they went all the way to the semi-finals. The Central Americans then built on that success by easing into the second group stage of qualifying for Brazil 2014 with a 100 per cent record. Just last month, striker Blas Perez spoke of his optimism in an interview with FIFA.com, saying: “We’re all pulling in the same direction, and our goal is to make history.”
This year we were beyond reproach, although the real test is yet to come with the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Two countries that delighted and surprised their fans in equal measure were Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda. Widely predicted to be mere also-rans in the first group stage of Brazil 2014 qualifying, the duo progressed at the expense of regional powers Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti respectively. Having upset the form book so spectacularly, Los Jaguares Dorados and the Wadadli Boys will be hoping to spring more surprises when the third round gets underway in mid-2012.
Also taking a lot of positives from this year will be Honduras. After an uncertain start under coach Luis Fernando Suarez, Los Catrachos took a richly deserved third place at the Gold Cup after their march to the semis. The team also finished the year on a high with this week’s 2-0 friendly win against Serbia, a result the coach greeted by saying: “We feel good about the road we’re on and can look to the future with optimism.”
Jamaica and Canada experienced both highs and lows in 2011. The Reggae Boyz impressed at the Gold Cup but lost each of their subsequent four friendlies. For the Canucks, meanwhile, it was the opposite scenario, recovering as they did from a disappointing showing at the regional championship to progress undefeated into the second group phase of Brazil 2014 qualifying. It was a similar story for El Salvador, who cruised through Group A with six wins from six, but who will nonetheless have to improve if they are to secure a second-consecutive appearance in the hexagonal final qualifying round.
For regional powerhouses USA, it was a difficult 12 months to say the least. The Stars and Stripes not only lost the continental title to arch-rivals Mexico for the second time running but, under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, have had a disappointing return of two wins, four defeats and one draw from seven games.
Costa Rica, for their part, brought the curtain down on an inauspicious year in the best manner possible. Their impressive 2-2 draw this week with world champions Spain had many positives, especially after the disappointing showings at the Gold Cup and the Copa America that cost coach Ricardo La Volpe his job. His replacement, Jorge Luis Pinto, left no one in any doubt about the mood in the camp after Tuesday’s friendly against the Spanish. “Everyone thought they’d run rings around us, but in the end we ran a few rings ourselves,” he said with good humour afterwards.
The two most dissatisfied teams in the region have to be Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti. Just five years after a memorable adventure at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the Soca Warriors need to start again from scratch after being pipped to the Group B qualifying berth by Guyana. “We have to come back from this and try again,” said their dejected coach Otto Pfister after his side’s decisive defeat to Guyana in Georgetown last weekend. Equally frustrated were Haiti, who made it a year to forget after earlier qualifying-round eliminations at the Caribbean and Gold Cups and have much to do to recapture their former glories.