Qualifying exploits propel Chapines
© AFP

Guatemala are surging in the CONCACAF zone, the Central Americans riding their peerless form in FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™ qualifying to a jump of nine places in the global rankings. With six wins in a row in the previous group of regional qualifying, talk in the Chapines’ dressing room – and among their legions of fans back home – has begun to turn toward qualifying for a first world finals in their history.

Recent wins over Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Belize, in which they scored 19 goals and conceded just three, led coach Ever Hugo Almeida’s side to the top of Group E with a margin of eleven points between them and their closest challengers. Although they were fancied in the section, the nature and ease of their dominance was startling.

With stalwart and all-time top-scorer Carlos ‘El Pescadito’ Ruiz leading the side, along with a bevy of young up-and comers, Guatemala are poised for big things in the next round. There they will meet USA, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda hoping to banish memories of Germany 2006 qualifying, when they dramatically fell just a point short of Trinidad and Tobago for a place in the intercontinental play-off. That same year, the Guatemalans reached their highest-ever ranking position of 50.

This side has what it takes to make it to Brazil.
Guatemala midfielder Marco Pappa

“This side has what it takes to make it to Brazil,” Chicago Fire man Marco Pappa told FIFA.com recently. 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 is no other way,” he added.

Guatemala are considered one of the lesser powers in the Central American sub-region, behind Honduras and Costa Rica but above the likes of Nicaragua and Belize. Currently, though, the Chapines are the toast of the zone. Recent form and results have seen them skyrocket up nine places in the last release of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

They are now in the top-100 - 90th place - and just one point behind Northern Ireland and ahead of the likes of Saudi Arabia and Bolivia. In the CONCACAF zone, they are ranked 12th, lowest aside from Cuba of the remaining 12 teams in the region’s qualifying campaign. Even so, the quarter-finalists from last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup speak of happy days and high hopes ahead. “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,” Pappa added.

One man that young Pappa credits with the side’s impressive form and improved stature is Almeida, the Paraguayan coach who has held the reins since his appointment last year. “He knows the league and the players really well and he’s got the experience too,” the player said of this coach. “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.”

Job-one is a top-two finish in the next round of qualifying and a place in the regional hexagonal – the final round on the road to Brazil in CONCACAF. It is a tall order indeed, but one the ever-climbing Chapines are keen to get right.