Caribbean rising

Nations League credited for big impact of regional teams at Concacaf Gold Cup

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS
Deputy Sport Editor
williamss@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 12, 2019

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Regional football stakeholders have made a link between the strong showing of Caribbean teams at the just-concluded Concacaf Gold Cup and the Nations League qualifying tournament.

Among the glaring impacts of regional teams in the expanded tournament is having two Caribbean teams in the semi-finals of the confederation's marquee championship for the first time.

Haiti, qualifying for their first semi-finals and who finished the preliminary group with maximum points, were edged 1-0 by eventual champions Mexico in a fiercely competitive match. Jamaica, who have been to consecutive finals (2015 & 2017), were knocked out by hosts USA 3-1 in their final-four contest.

Curaçao, who were playing in only their second Gold Cup having debuted in 2017, finished second in Group C to Jamaica and historically booked a quarter-final berth.

Though they failed to progress from the group stage, there were notable performances from Bermuda, Guyana and Martinique.

The bravado of Caribbean sides in the expanded Gold Cup, which moved from 12 to 16 teams, is being attributed to the exposure of playing in the qualifying phase of the confederation's new national competition where all 41 members will contest.

President of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), Randolph Harris, was quick to make the connection between the Nations League and the chest-thumping renditions of Caribbean teams.

“First of all I would like to say that the introduction of the Nations League by Concacaf has created a new scale of opportunity… what it did is that immediately, Caribbean teams understood that they would be playing against the best teams in the region, including USA, Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, Costa Rica, and other teams of that quality, and this allowed them to sit up and get serious about football.

“Also, a lot of the teams have professional players playing outside of the countries who are eligible to represent the region's teams, and that is a plus also, because what that does is bring a sense of professionalism into the game in the Caribbean,” Harris told the Jamaica Observer after the Gold Cup final between Mexico and the USA at Soldier Field in Chicago last Sunday.

Mexico won 1-0 for their eighth title courtesy of a Jonathan dos Santos 73-minute goal.

Harris noted that the Nations League has triggered a sweeping spirit of self-belief among all the football-playing nations of the Caribbean, which will eventually make the region a threat going forward.

“The Nations League really made us in the Caribbean step up, and I know that in the future, we will not only get to the semi-finals, but we will also reach the final and perhaps produce a champions,” said the Barbadian, who serves on Concacaf's governing council as a vice-president.

Concacaf's director of Caribbean football Horace Reid said without doubt the region experienced its best tournaments in 15 editions, flipping the script as the perennial Cinderellas of the confederation.

“The Caribbean had what could be classified as its best Gold Cup showing in the history of the flagship event of the confederation. Haiti, Jamaica, Bermuda, Curaçao, Bermuda, Guyana, and Martinique, in particular, had positive results and some outstanding performances,” the Jamaican told the Observer.

Reid, a former general secretary of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), said expanding the Gold Cup was not only a courageous move, but a visionary one.

“The decision to expand the event from 12 to 16 teams was visionary and this is the level of forward-thinking leadership and conviction that the confederation has come to expect of the Concacaf in recent times.

“Undeniably, we are witnessing a significant growth in the sport across many markets within the Concacaf family, and which has been inspired by the One-Concacaf programme, Nations League and the strategic roll out of other programmes from grass roots to youth to senior levels of both genders,” Reid reasoned.

Expanding rights, Reid added, to virgin host countries outside of North America for the first time is indicative of boldness and inclusiveness never before seen in the confederation.

“The successful staging of Gold Cup matches in Jamaica and Costa Rica was significant. This historic achievement affords Concacaf access to all its sub-regions and greater commercial opportunities in the sport in these markets.

“Jamaica, for instance, would have tangible and intangible legacy benefits that the local federation should take advantage of. We have started the compilation of a post-event report for matches staged in Kingston and will share with the JFF,” Reid concluded.

Jamaica's senior men's Head Coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore, too, sought to weigh in on the Gold Cup expansion and what it means to the development of the national team competition portfolio of Concacaf.

“I'm very pleased with the decision by Concacaf to expand the Gold Cup to 16 teams. It is very clear from the performances of the Caribbean teams that they indeed belong at the table. Our competitive gaps across our confederation are rapidly closing and this is very good for the development of the sport in our region.

“No team can be taken for granted anymore. With new opportunities like the expanded Gold Cup and Nations League, the Caribbean member associations now have added incentives to invest more time and resources into the game,” said the former Jamaica captain and France '98 veteran.


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