The UNCAF Nations Cup
January 22-February 1
The UNCAF Nations Cup is a biennial soccer tournament, held for the CONCACAF national teams of Central America: (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) The tournament has been held since 1991 and doubles as a qualifying event for the Gold Cup. The top 5 teams will qualify for CONCACAF Gold Cup 2009. This years Nations Cup will be held in Tegucigalpa Honduras. Every nation in UNCAF (excluding Belize) has hosted twice except Panama who have only hosted once in 2003. The Cup was originally awarded to Panama. Panama’s national stadium is currently under a $19 Million renovation. Apparently work has not progress as planed and Panama’s stadium will not be ready. The alternative stadium Rod Carew also appears not to be an option. Negotiations between the FePaFut, the UNCAF, the company Traffic and the owners of the stadium failed to agree. Costa Rica was seen by many as favorites to take over organizing the championship since they were they first one’s to host in 1991. However Costa Rica’s federation said it would be too expensive to run. "So far, we have no official communication from organizers and, on our own, it is not possible to contemplate the organization of the Nations Cup as the necessary budget for this type of tournament is too high," Costa Rican Football Federation secretary General Joseph Ramirez is quoted as saying. The tournament is sponsored by Digicel the wireless communications giant in Central America. Digicel provides valuable financing to this tournament but apparently does not cover every expense. Digicel also sponsored the last 2 Caribbean Cups.
Honduras and Guatemala both submitted bids when Panama defaulted and it was Honduras who was awarded the tourney. Honduras last hosted in 2001. They will be one of the favorites to win since they will be playing on their home pitch. A quick at each group;
(Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Belize)
This group has 2 of the three teams playing in the HEX for the World Cup Qualifying in Honduras and El Salvador. The other 2 nations were probably grouped with Honduras since they are not that good. The idea here is to keep the host nation in the tournament for fan support and money at the gate.
Honduras currently holds back to back titles in 1993 and 1995. Honduras is coming off winning the U-23 Olympic qualification against the yanks in 2008. This was significant since the tourney was held in the states. Honduras will be led by Captain Amando Guevara. He has over 100 caps. He applies his trade for Toronto FC. Ramon Nunez grew up in US and played for SMU. He also played for Dallas FC and Chivas. He is small but will uncork a shot with any open space. Revolution fans will look for Maricio Castro(Revolution) on the left to feed their talented forward Carlos Pavon.
El Salvador: Every player but one player in the domestic El Salvador league. It is definitely not the top league in Central America but El Salvadorians do not care. They may feel a little disrespected that no other club wants their players. Eliseo Quintanilla who plays in the middle is by far the best player they have. They have never made the UNCAF Championship game. They came in 3rd 4 times and 4th 4 times. PTW Eliseo Quintanilla, Arturo Alvarez (San Jose Earthquake),Edwin Miranda ( Puerto Rico Islanders.)
Belize is the smallest Central American Country. They also have the smallest population. They are the only English speaking Central American nation. Belize could challenge. They had a very good showing against Mexico with a 2-2 tie in the USA during World Cup Qualifying. Let’s see if they can battle their Central America counterparts. They have never advanced in this tournament. They wear the all red uniforms.
Nicaragua has been trying to get it’s house in order for some time however it would be nice if they challenged for the knockout round. Nicaragua has never made the knockout round and will battle Belize to avoid being tagged the worst Central America team.
Prediction Honduras easily wins group with El Salvador taking second.
Players to Watch (ptw): (Hon) Amando Guevara (Toronto FC), Hon- Ramon Nunez (CD Olympia), Hon-FW-Carlos Pavon, El Salvador (Eliseo Quintanilla)
(Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala)
Costa Rica have reached the finals every tournament (except one) winning 6 out of the 9 UNCAF Cups. They should be a strong favorite to emerge from this group. Walter Centino will control the middle feeding veteran Alvaro Saborio up front. Tico’s are the reigning Champions and have won the last 3 in a row. They have the best domestic league by far. PTW Celso Borges, Walter Centino (Saprissa), Alvaro Saborio.
Panama will challenge Costa Rica for the top spot in Group B. They should still be stinging bad about missing the World Cup Qualifying loss to El Salvador. They will have something to prove and should play with a chip on their shoulder. They have had a great run from 2005 until the upset from El Salvador in 2008. They will be looking for an international title to hang in their newly remodeled National Stadium. Their best result was the last UNCAF Cup in El Salvador. They battled Costa Rica to a 1-1 tie. They only lost in the penalty shoot out. They should be gunning for Costa Rica in this group play.
Guatemala plays a very physical game and they will be fighting for respectability from the start. They have been runner up in the UNCAF Cup a record 4 times. They did win the UNCAF Cup in 2001. Oddly enough the tourney was in Honduras. Maybe Guatemala can rekindle its magic and win another one here.
Prediction Costa Rica wins group and Panama earns second place.
Semi finals Honduras will handle Panama while Costa Rica will exert it’s will over on overmatched El Salvador. Final I see Honduras finally breaking Costa Rica grip on the UNCAF Cup with a hard fought victory.