- El Salvador head into 2019 with hopes high
- Third-highest climb in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking in 2018
- Coach Carlos de los Cobos the man responsible for their ascent
If there are any national teams entitled to dream big in 2019, El Salvador are undoubtedly one of them. The last time the Central Americans were anywhere near their current position of 70th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking was in 2014, when they sat 68th.
Since then La Selecta have been floating between 84th and 140th, and they headed into 2018 in 100th place. Yet, when the Ranking was updated for the final time in 2018, on 20 December, they lay above 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers Panama and had climbed fully 30 places, an ascent bettered only by Kosovo (+46) and Kuwait (+31).
The return of Carlos de los Cobos to the dugout had a lot to do with that marked improvement. The Mexican, who coached El Salvador between 2006 and 2010 and took them to the final six-team round in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010, was reappointed in March 2018 and wasted little time in making changes and imposing his style.
The lowdown on 2018
- More wins than defeats: El Salvador won four of the six matches they played and lost two.
- Two objectives: The Central Americans’ biggest tests of the year came in the qualifiers for the 2019/20 CONCACAF Nations League, which continue this year. El Salvador are aiming to finish among the top ten, which would see them qualify for the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup. They currently lie 14th.
- Painful but valuable lessons: Their two defeats both provided food for thought. In going down 5-0 to a star-studded Brazil side in a September friendly played in the USA, they could at least console themselves with the fact that they had taken on the best. Meanwhile, November brought a narrow loss to Bermuda, an unwelcome surprise that has dented their chances of reaching the Gold Cup.
- Ceren and Rivas the main men: Joaquin Rivas had a productive year in the USA's USL, scoring 12 goals for Tulsa Roughnecks. When De los Cobos handed him an opportunity in a friendly against Haiti, the forward repaid his faith with a goal. Meanwhile, Oscar Ceren is a vital component of the midfield and has an eye for goal, as he showed in scoring twice against Montserrat in a Nations League qualifier. The Alianza FC man also became the first Salvadoran player to be named in the CONCACAF Best XI of the Year. Figuring among La Selecta’s other key performers are Denis Pineda and Andres Flores.
El Salvador have a big date coming up in March, when they take on Jamaica in their final Nations League qualifier. If they are to finish among the top ten, they need to win and hope for results elsewhere to go their way.
“We need to work hard, prepare for the match well and make sure the key messages get through to the players, like the need to play with attacking intent and be organised,” De los Cobos told elsalvador.com. “It's going to be a high-pressure match and there'll be a lot of tension.”
How far can El Salvador go? Can they continue their rise up the World Rankings? Can they make it to the 2019 Gold Cup? And is Qatar 2022 a dream they can fulfil? Only time will reveal the answers to those questions. In the meantime, the Salvadorans hope to keep moving forward.