Saturday, January 8, 2011

Central American Cup- Nations

The Central American Cup

I enjoy following the Central American Cup. This tournament
was previously called the UNCAF Cup, which nobody could follow. Now the name reflects the tournament, The Central American Cup. This tournament has been dominated by 2 nations in the past. Costa Rica (28 wins) and Honduras (24 wins) have been the 2 best in this tournament. However it has been the Tico’s who have the Championships. Then Guatemala and El Salvador who have 19 and 15 wins respectively. There has been a big gap between the top teams and the middle teams in the past. Panama and Nicaragua trail the bigger nations win 10 and 4 wins respectively. Belize is still searching for their first win.
We could say this tournament has been dominated by Costa Rica. Costa Rica has been in every championship game except one (1995). The Tico’s have won a record 6 Cups. This is more than all the other Central American nations combined. They have the best national team (IMHO) and the best domestic league. Costa Rica has a population at roughly 4.5 Million and they consider soccer their number #1 sport. Costa Rica is not only a Central American power but one of the top team in CONCACAF. They are the only Central American and for that matter Caribbean nation to make the hex each of the last 4 cycles. The Tico’s set the bar in Central America. They are coached by Argentine Ricardo La Volpe. La Volpe has coached at least 10 of Mexican top clubs and was the Mexican national coach 2002-2006. He has a wealth of experience and will look to get a Championship under his belt in Panama this month. The Tico’s will want to reestablish their dominance over Central American since they lost the last Cup. This did not sit well with the Costa Rican fans. They believe they should win every tournament.
Honduras (Los Catrachos) has won the Central American Cup in 1993 and again in 1995. They reached the final again in Guatemala but lost to their rival Costa Rica. Honduras has seen great stability from 2006-2001 when Rinaldo Rueda (Columbian) coached them on their most successful run in history. Los Catrachos not only reached the Hex but qualified the first World Cup since 1982 Spain. Los Catrachos will be coming into this tournament with loads of confidence. They played the best in the World and now believe they should be the top team in the region. They will have to do it with a new coach. Mexican (Juan de Dios Castillo) has coached the top teams in Honduras and know a lot about Honduran soccer. He will be in charge to lead this talented group in Panama.
Guatemala has over 14 Million in its population which is about double the other Central American nations. Guatemala has reached the final 5 times but only winning one Championship. Their Championship was against Costa Rica and it was played in Honduras. That was 11 years ago. Guatemala has a good domestic league but it is top heavy. Communications and Municipal dominate the league. This is not good for the league however these teams do very well in the Champions League. 2005 was Guatemala big chance to win the Central American Cup when they hosted. However they did not make the final game. Their coach now is Ever Hugo Almeida (Paraguay). Almeida took over in 2010, like many other coaches throughout the region and the World. He will try to get Guatemala back on top in the region. They are in the hard group with Costa Rica and Honduras.

Panama is the best story for me. They busted onto the soccer scene in the 2005 Gold Cup. Los Canaleros knocked off South Africa and Columbia in that Gold Cup. They reached the final and tied the host (USA), they only lost in the shootout. Then there was the $19 Million investment into Rommell Stadium. The entire country is proud of this huge stadium and look to host a great tournament. Panama, finally is the 4th CA nation to play in the final. The final games had only 3 nations (Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala) in the Championship game prior to 2007. Panama wins their first ever Central American Cup in 2009. This was great for Central America to have another quality nation that has raised the competition in the region and with in CONCACAF. They will be playing at home and their fans will surely turn out. They are in the easiest group of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Belize. I expect them to make the final again.

Nicaragua is a slowly improving nation. They do not have the resources as the other Central America countries. They are doing it the right way. The coach was Ramone Olivas (Nicaragua) but now he is an understudy. The head coach is a Spaniard named Enrique Llena. Llena was also put in charge at the beginning of 2010. Llena is in charge to organize the entire Nicaragua soccer structure. He will overlook all aspects of the Nicaragua Soccer Organization. He oversees the pro league, the national team and the youth teams. He is trying to install professionalism throughout Nicaragua. Nicaragua did beat Guatemala in the last Central American Cup however they will not be taken lightly this year tournament. It will be an upset if they make the Gold Cup but than again anything can happen.

Belize is the smallest Central America country. Belize also has the smallest population at about 300,000 people. Belize is the only country that speaks English as its national language. Records indicate Belize has never won a game in this Cup. However they have only started playing recently. They have only played 17 games compared to over 40 for Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They are coached by

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