By Paul Nicholson
July 23 – The Gold Cup is now shifting from the hectic daily schedule of double header group games to the quarter finals this weekend in Glendale, Arizona, and Arlington, Texas. Big stadiums worthy of big achievements, something that this Gold Cup has been delivering with regularity.
Not least in the achievement of getting it actually getting played. Even before a group stage ball was kicked Concacaf had to negotiate the tricky decision of removing Curacao from the competition and calling Guatemala back (they had failed to qualify losing on penalties in a preliminary round).
Covid positives became a sub-theme of the group stages, but the organisers and nations have tested, isolated, tested and turned up for business. Haiti suffered losing a number of key players but still improved with every game, Jamaica also were forced to isolate when they had a positive test returned for star striker Bobby Reid, but they still go into a quarter final against the US capable of pulling off an upset.
On the pitch the action has been a clear level up from the Gold Cup in 2019. Mexico are defending their title and as ever brought fans, passion and controversy. Hirving Lozano was hospitalised in the first game after a reckless challenge by Trinidad and Tobago’s goalkeeper Marvin Phillip. That prompted the Mexican FA president to complain about the standard of refereeing to FIFA, demanding more protection for the safety of his players.
It is these kinds of instances that make you realise that you are at a proper football tournament that is important and means something to all the participants.
Asked what he wanted to achieve from this edition of the Gold Cup, Concacaf president Victor Montagliani said that “getting fans in the stadium and a return to watching good football is what this is all about. It is about a return to something nearing normality and, I know it sounds a bit corny, but it really is a celebration of the game and our region and what we all do.”
The Gold Cup has seen a number of sold-out stadia and will likely now see full houses all the way to the final in Las Vegas which sold out within 90 minutes of tickets going on sale.
One of the element that have contributed to the success of the tournament has been the Concacaf decision to shift the dates for the Gold Cup back a month, primarily to give that extra time in the calendar to push another month into covid recovery but also to work around a calendar that was becoming increasingly compressed.
“The calendar was tight. We had to start out World Cup qualifiers and we were also aware of the Olympic tournament which is an important competition in our region. It also meant we weren’t going head-to-head with the Euros or Copa America,” said Montagliani.
Not that that would have mattered as the viewing audiences for the Gold Cup have outstripped both competitions
“Moving by one month was the best decision and in a way we have carried through the energy from their finish into our start. We aren’t in competition with them, I want them all to be good.”
“But it is not just about quantity it is about quality,” said Montagliani. “Our objective is to deliver through our operations a good experience across the board, for fans, teams, and our partners.”
There is no doubt that the product on the pitch is making that easier with fans and the introduction of Asian champions Qatar to the tournament has added a real competitive edge.
The Gold Cup is not just delivering on the pitch but has maintained its growth off it with an increase in the number of sponsors, their activations and media partnerships.
“I have heard it said before that the Gold Cup may be the best kept secret in football,” said Montagliani.
Not any more.
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