Fate was not on El Salvador’s side during 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying Round 3 in the North, Central America and Caribbean zone, pitting *La Selecta *in Group B alongside Mexico and Costa Rica. The country’s hopes of returning to FIFA’s flagship tournament after a 32 year absence were dashed after finishing third in the standings.
At the time, towards the end of 2012, the Central Americans sat in 103rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. It was a long way from their historical best mark of 49th, a position they had occupied just eight months previously. Now however, El Salvador’s focus has turned to the next challenge, namely qualifying for Russia 2018.
The turn of the year brought the opportunity to start afresh and on 18 January they took part in the Copa Centroamericana 2013. “We need to wipe the slate clean because you can’t keep thinking about the past,” said the Cuscatleco’s Peruvian coach Alberto Castillo, who took charge of the side as they embarked on a new chapter. “We’re confident we’ll be able to compete and give a good account of ourselves in the tournament. We need to play well against some difficult opponents.”
Gradual improvementEl Salvador did just that, reaching the semi-finals of the competition where they were defeated by hosts and eventual champions Costa Rica. However, their disappointment was tempered somewhat with a 1-0 victory over Belize in the match for third place.
That success was reflected in a leap up to 81st in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. “Our improvement in the global standings was because of what we did at the Copa Centroamericana in Costa Rica,” said Castillo. “It’s not the best yardstick, but it helps us gain experience.”
A lack of subsequent matches led to El Salvador slipping down to 94th by July. The start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup that month presented the perfect opportunity to make up the lost ground.
However, once again Castillo’s charges were eliminated by the eventual champions. After making it out of the group stage, they were overpowered USA in the quarter-finals, losing 5-1. The silver lining was that their good results against Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti bumped El Salvador up to their present position of 83rd in the world.
“Seeing as we didn’t play for a while we moved down a few rungs,” said Castillo. “If you don’t play then the amount of points you have won’t be as high. After we slipped down a bit a lot of people were alarmed, but now that we’ve gone back up again nobody has taken any notice.”
Nevertheless, the coach is working hard to build solid a foundation for the country’s future and already has a blueprint drawn up. The main objective is to demonstrate their ability out on the pitch, and now that Castillo has given the side more balance, El Salvador are well equipped to re-establish themselves as one of the top sides in the CONCACAF zone.* *