Though Guatemala have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ finals, confidence is high in the Chapin camp as they continue their quest to reach Brazil 2014, which resumes on Friday with a trip to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Epitomising that belief is midfielder Marco Pappa, who is convinced the time has come for the Guatemalans to break with the past and end their qualifying hoodoo once and for all.
The faith of the Chicago Fire man is founded on his side’s run to the last eight of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and as the 23-year-old explains to FIFA.com, that faith courses through the entire team.
“This side has got what it takes to get to Brazil,” said Pappa, an international since 2008 and a figurehead of the talented young generation now lending sterling support to old hands such as Carlos Ruiz and Guillermo Ramirez. “If we’re going to achieve that dream, we need to stick to the same approach and focus on our objectives without changing course. We can only do that if we stick together. There’s no other way.”
El Azul y Blanco have made a solid start to their bid for a place in the third qualifying round in the CONCACAF Zone, taking charge in Group E thanks to a 4-0 win over St Vincent and the Grenadines and a 2-1 defeat of Belize. Those results confirmed the progress they made at the continental championships in the USA in June, where they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by eventual champions Mexico.
“The Gold Cup was the most wonderful experience of my short career so far, and I was a bit taken aback by the high standard” said Pappa, formerly with Municipal, the club where Ruiz also came through the ranks. “He’s the role model, the driving force and the leader of a team in which everyone knows their job,” he added in appreciation of the veteran striker, Guatemala’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Ruiz, known in the game as El Pescadito (The Little Fish), made a welcome return to the national set-up at the Copa Centroamericana earlier this year, having retired from international football in 2009. Since then the team coached by Ever Hugo Almeida have reaped the benefits of what Pappa describes as “the perfect blend of experience and youth”.
The Guatemalans are right on course to book a place alongside USA and Jamaica in the third qualifying round and thereby improve on their disappointing efforts to reach South Africa 2010.
“We’re doing better than we did in the 2010 World Cup campaign,” said Pappa. “Expectation is high among the fans and we really believe we can get them partying on the street. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”
As the Chicago player went on to explain, coach Almeida is driving them to greater heights: “He knows the league and the players really well and he’s got the experience too. He has a very positive outlook and he knows how to motivate us. He’s constantly pushing us and he wants the same things as we do. He’s doing a fantastic job.”
Almeida’s task is to go two steps further than Guatemala managed in attempting to qualify for Germany 2006, when Trinidad and Tobago pipped them to a place in the final play-off against Bahrain in agonising circumstances. The Soca Warriors will not be blocking their path this time, though as Pappa acknowledged, some stern tests lie ahead.
“It’s a good thing we’ve avoided Mexico, but Jamaica are a fine team and USA are very strong,” he said. “This time, more than ever, we need to compete right to the end. We’re ready for the challenge and our chance has come. Qualifying for Brazil will be difficult but not impossible.”