By Paul Nicholson
September 3 – Concacaf has further expanded its bi-annual Gold Cup with a series of changes that increase member nation participation and the integrity of the competition structure.
Scheduled to kick off its 16 team group stages 10 July 2021, the 12 already qualified nations will be joined by three nations from a Preliminary Round knockout phase that will be played in the US by 12 nations. Three teams will qualify for the group stages along with Qatar who will be competing as a guest (See Qatar to guest at Gold Cup in the US).
For the member nations it gives 12 more teams the opportunity to experience the Gold Cup atmosphere in the lead-up to the final tournament proper.
The teams in the preliminary round earned their qualification via the Nations League, as the third placed teams from League A groups, the second placed teams from League B groups, and the winners of League C groups. Qualified teams are Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Cuba, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
Concacaf president Victor Montagliani said that the expansion is merited by the performances of the member association. “You have to take a leap of faith in where you are going with the competition. But our Nations League has brought countries a long way and there are a lot of countries who have made a significant investment in their football and this is the opportunity they needed,” he said.
Certainly the point about competitiveness is borne out when looking at who has qualified and who still has to qualify.
Bermuda, Cuba, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago all competed at the Gold Cup in 2019 but did not make the automatic qualification slots for 2021 and have to play off in the new preliminary round. As do Haiti who made the semi-finals in 2019 only losing to eventual winners Mexico in extra time on a hot and emotional night in Phoenix.
“The Concacaf Gold Cup continues to grow as a competition and we are hugely excited at the prospect of the 2021 edition, particularly as it falls in the Confederation’s 60th anniversary year,” said Montagliani.
Changing times, new draw structure
Part of the competition growth is the first time introduction of a draw that will see teams on opposite sides of the bracket meet from the Quarterfinals onwards.
Previously teams have been seeded in their own sides of the draw meaning they couldn’t meet until the final. Specifically this meant that the confederation’s two power nations –Mexico and the US – would not meet until the final. Now they could meet at the quarter-final or semi-final stages if one of them doesn’t win their group.
“This is part of the evolution of a football first mentality. I also believe that having a draw for this competition is a long time coming and (also) fits with our objective to be a truly football first organization. It will provide great anticipation for fans as they look forward to the return of international football in our region.”
Teams automatically qualified to the group stages are the winners and runners-up in Concacaf Nations League A groups, and the winners of B groups, including Canada, Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Suriname and USA.
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