Via an imperious defence of their CONCACAF Futsal Championship crown, Costa Rica qualified in authoritative fashion for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. Also representing the region at the global showpiece will be Panama, Guatemala and Cuba, the latter returning to the top table after eight years away. Therefore, of the region's teams that made it to Thailand 2012, only Mexico will miss out this time around.
FIFA.com takes a look at the highlights of the sixth edition of this qualifying competition, which decided the last four names into the hat for the Colombia 2016 Final Draw, to be held on Thursday 19 May in Medellin.
That Costa Rica were deserved champions is beyond question, Los Ticos winning all five of their games and boasting the most prolific attack (26 goals scored) and meanest defence (six conceded). What is more, their matches versus the other three eventual qualifiers for the Futsal World Cup featured 17 goals for and just one against, sinking Cuba 6-0 in the group phase, Guatemala 7-1 in the semis and Panama 4-0 in the final.
"We achieved all our objectives," said coach Diego Solis afterwards, who has now been involved in all four of Costa Rica's Futsal World Cup qualifications, the first two as a player. "The lads played an excellent tournament. They knew how to finish the job on the pitch, but they were also disciplined off it. I'm happy because the process we've been carrying out since the last World Cup bore fruit: now I've six new lads playing at a high level."
The other qualifiers
The progress made by Panama, for their part, has been clear to see, the Panamanians finishing fourth in the CONCACAF Futsal Championship in 2008, third in 2012 and runners-up in 2016, underlining that they did not reach Thailand 2012 by chance. At this year's championship they won four of their five matches, losing only in the final against the hosts.
"It was a more even game than the scoreline suggests," stated captain Edgar Rivas, on that 4-0 reverse. "Basically, they took their chances and we didn't. Even so, we secured qualification for the World Cup without undue problems, so we ought to be pleased." In addition, keeper Daniel Atencio, a key part of the competition's second-best defensive record (16 conceded), won the Golden Glove award.
Taking the final place on the podium were Guatemala, thus enjoying their third consecutive top-three finish after finishing first in 2004 and second in 2008. And though this might suggest a downward slide, it is in fact a natural consequence of a gradual generational overhaul. Despite this process, the team showed plenty of spirit to bounce back from a 4-1 opening defeat by Panama to record narrow group victories over Mexico and Honduras and clinch their World Cup berth.
They again showed their mettle after the 7-1 semi-final mauling by Costa Rica, by recovering to overcome Cuba 3-2 in the match for third place. "We had a duty to win that game and we did it," said veteran defender Miguel Santizo. "We went through the mill and ended up celebrating third place, but that wasn't what we'd been hoping for. We came here to win the tournament."
For Cuba, meanwhile, who better than pivot Ricardo Castillo to sum up the mood after their fourth-place finish? "Our goal was to qualify for the World Cup, whatever it took," said Castillo. "After we achieved that [by reaching the semi-finals], we said that we give everything to be crowned champions or win a medal, but it wasn't to be. Even so, we're still happy."
Indeed, though Cuba lost three of their five matches, only against Costa Rica were they comfortably second-best. After their heavy section defeat by Los Ticos, the Cubans managed to regroup and down Canada to earn a place in the last four, while their subsequent losses to Panama in the semis and Guatemala in the play-off for third place were only by one-goal margins. It should also be noted that, in 18-year-old winger Diego Ramirez, Cuba boasted the winner of the Brilliant Future award – handed to the most outstanding young performer on show.