CONCACAF's ups and downs in '09
'One man’s joy is another man’s misery' is certainly applicable to football.
And while a good many in CONCACAF – the confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean – were shedding tears of joy in 2009, even more produced the bitter, painful variety. Join FIFA.com for a look back at some of the dizzying highs and paralysing lows that defined 2009 in the New World.
Catracho delight, Tico despair
Sadly mired in political instability, football-mad Honduras had something big to shout about as its national team booked passage to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. It will be the Central Americans’ first appearance at the tournament since 1982, and the momentous nature of the development was lost on neither players nor fans. Winning their final game of the region’s qualifying marathon – 1-0 in El Salvador on 14 October - goal king Carlos Pavon, midfielder Wilson Palacios and creator Amado Guevara celebrated and danced long into the night at the Estadio Cuscatlan. Benfica star David Suazo even went so far as to complete a victory lap around the pitch on his knees, fulfilling a promise he had made to the team's fans. “This is unforgettable, we're so happy, we can't find the words to describe how we feel. It was tough going but we deserve it," exclaimed Pavon.
At that very same moment, Costa Rican tears were flowing in faraway Washington DC. Los Ticos, who led the final six-team qualifying section for a long stretch early on, sealed a monumental collapse on the night all of Honduras danced for joy. After leading already-qualified USA 2-0 at RFK Stadium, a goal from American defender Jonathan Bornstein four minutes into stoppage time turned Costa Rica’s win to a draw and an automatic place in South Africa to bitter disappointment for Rene Simoes’s La Sele. Though they fought manfully in their play-off with Uruguay, Costa Rica, who reached the last two instalments of the FIFA World Cup, now turn their reddened eyes towards Brazil 2014.
Joining the Costa Ricans on their sofas, beach blankets or barstools this June will be El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago, whose dreadful performance in this qualifying campaign yielded only six points from ten games. It was a stark contrast to the cheerful run of four years ago that brought the Soca Warriors to a debut appearance in Germany.
The soap opera continues
For nearly two decades now, USA and Mexico have been virtually indistinguishable at the pinnacle of CONCACAF’s football, incessantly jostling for position. Both have qualified for every world finals since 1994 and the top two qualifying spots in the region seem virtually reserved for the Zone’s top duo. This time it was the US who earned bragging rights by finishing first in the ‘Hexagonal,’ one point ahead of Mexico with a record of six wins, two draws and two losses to El Tri’s six wins, one draw and three losses.
The year 2009 also produced two other major flashpoints in the complicated dance of this heated rivalry. Firstly, USA made history by beating Spain, who sat atop of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, to reach the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, where they lost 3-2 to the mighty Brazil after leading 2-0. It was the kind of result that made Mexican fan, who watched their team win that very tournament on home soil in 1999, quite nervous indeed. However, any trepidation they might have felt about their status in the region was soothed when their team overwhelmed an under-strength and experimental USA 5-0 on 26 July in New Jersey in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, bringing Mexico atop the overall standings for the region’s biennial showpiece.
When the two old foes head to South Africa 2010, Mexico may well have the upper hand. Much improved under returning head coach Javier Aguirre – who took over for the foundering Sven Goran-Eriksson in the midst of an April freefall - has revived the side. Meanwhile, USA coach Bob Bradley faces a nervous waiting game as his giant centre-back Oguchi Onyewu and Charlie Davies, his young and promising forward, both look unlikely to recover from serious injuries in time to take part at the competition.
Salt Lake and Monterrey surprise
The USA saw one of its unlikeliest club champions crowned in 2009 as Real salt Lake outfoxed heavily fancied Los Angeles Galaxy to pick up their first Major League Soccer crown. Struggling even to reach the post-season play-offs , the side from Mormon Country – comprised largely of journeymen and only founded in 2005 - squirmed past Guillermo Barros Schelotto and last year’s champions Columbus Crew, star-studded Chicago Fire and finally left US coaching guru Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan and international superstar David Beckham cursing the heavens after a penalty shootout. “We were comfortable as underdogs. When it came time to play LA, we felt we matched up with them. They had the stars, but we knew we had the better team,” Jason Kreis, RSL’s victorious 36-year-old coach and former striker, told FIFA.com.
Joe Public enjoyed a glittering season in Trinidad and Tobago, winning the TT Pro League, the main domestic competition, plus the Pro League Big Six, the FA Trophy, the TOYOTA Classic and the Digicel Pro Bowl all in the space of the past 12 months. The Eastern Lions were guided to the success under Derek King, the youngest coach in the division. “Credit to the guys,” said the former Soca Warrior. “They really went out there and did well. I want to commend them. Five trophies in one season, you can’t ask for more."The historic achievement was also recognised by FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, who wrote a letter to the club commending them on their success.
Over in Central America, Costa Rica’s champions will – for the second season running – not be one of the big two of Deportivo Saprissa and Alajuelense. There were no surprises in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, however, as big boys Marathon, Municipal and FAS all won their respective domestic championships.