The final group at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup is also the hardest to predict. In six matches spread across Houston and Orlando, the national teams of Honduras, Panama, Grenada, and invitee Qatar are competing for two spots in the knockout rounds. The upcoming fixtures promise contrasting styles and unique talents capable of carrying their teams into the quarterfinals.
Tuesday, July 13
Qatar vs. Panama – 7:00 p.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. PT
Honduras vs. Grenada - 9:00 p.m. ET, 6:00 p.m. PT
Saturday, July 17
Grenada vs. Qatar – 7:30 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. PT
Panama vs. Honduras – 9:30 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. PT
Tuesday, July 20
Panama vs. Grenada – 9:00 p.m. ET, 6:00 p.m. PT
Honduras vs. Qatar – 9:00 p.m. ET, 9:00 p.m. PT
Los Catrachos are coming off a third-place finish in the Nations League Finals, featuring eye-opening performances against the United States and Costa Rica. Manager Fabián Coito likes to play through the wings, maintaining a sound defensive structure before breaking forward with numbers. Expect the veterans to carry this team through the group, with experience paying dividends in tournament play.
Coito made a few interesting personnel decisions, leading to some minor media discussion. Cádiz forward Anthony “Choco” Lozano reportedly has an injury issue. Stalwart striker Jerry Bengston was included on the final roster after being left out of the Nations League squad.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 67/58
Recent Record: In addition to the Nations League, Honduras played two friendlies in March, drawing with Belarus and losing to Greece. There was also a scoreless draw last month against a mostly second-choice Mexican lineup. Like many teams, the coronavirus pandemic limited fixtures to a mere two during 2020.
Odds of Winning: In the Running
One to Watch: Amidst an aging attacking core, Alberth Elis will be relied upon to provide the majority of the scoring in this World Cup cycle and likely the next. The 25-year-old Boavista forward can play any position on the front line, but Coito prefers him at striker.
Led by manager Thomas Christiansen, Los Canaleros’ roster features a strong midfield and defense. Panama is looking to build off of its first-ever World Cup appearance in 2018, the culmination of 15 years of growth. This is the not the most talented squad, so getting out of the group could be considered something of a victory heading into qualifying.
Panama is attempting to rebuild after the departure of a golden generation, but some of the remaining older class has yet to surrender the reins. The team has struggled against faster opponents, failing to bring the necessary intensity. Christiansen committed to an intense fitness regimen, promising a squad that is “in better condition, much more prepared and rested” for the group stage.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 78/70
Recent Record: Panama stormed through first two stages of World Cup qualifying, reeling off six straight matches without a defeat to reach the third round. For a nation trying to maintain standing among the region’s elite, the recent two-legged victory over an ascendant Curaçao was particularly impressive. A pre-tournament friendly against Mexico resulted in a 3-0 loss.
Odds of Winning: Dark Horse
One to Watch: Anderlecht defender Amir Murillo is perhaps the best attacking fullback in CONCACAF. If the 25-year-old consistently makes inroads into the final third, he can tilt the balance in Panama’s favor. A reported positive COVID-19 test should not prevent him from participating in the tournament.
In what is the country’s third Gold Cup appearance, the Spice Boys qualified for the tournament by dominating their group in the recently completed Nations League. The roster features a few interesting call-ups from England, representing notable clubs such as Brentford, Leyton Orient, and Shrewsbury Town. These players will have to mesh with domestic talents from the GFA Premier League, an ongoing process for Caribbean nations. This group might be too great a challenge for one-time Canada interim manager Michael Findlay, especially after a quick end to the World Cup campaign.
“The Gold Cup is a great opportunity for us to assess our progress and overall program,” he told CONCACAF.com. “Given the transitional position the program is in, now it’s about setting out goals around our performance standards and our ability to compete at this level within CONCACAF on a consistent basis. Absolutely we are the underdog… Frankly, I don’t believe many people expect any success from us… But I like the underdog position.”
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 160/169
Recent Record: Grenada finished a distant fourth in the first round of World Cup qualifying, with a record of one win and three losses. The lone victory was a 1-0 decision against the U.S. Virgin Islands, a team that was routed by the rest of the group.
Odds of Winning: Snowball’s Chance
One to Watch: Tournaments are won with defending, and Grenada has quite the player in Aaron Pierre. The Shrewsbury center back is excited for the competition, looking to bring a delicate touch and physical presence to the back line. He is also a dangerous presence on set pieces and can score from distance.
The lone invited team in this year’s competition, the Crimsons are competing in their first Gold Cup. This group, which already won the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, could easily reach the final and become the first to hold the title for multiple federations. Originally set to play in the Copa América, COVID delays caused scheduling issues and forced a change of plans. An incredible 12 players hail from Al Sadd, the country’s dominant super club that has won the Qatar Stars League a record 15 times.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 58/45
Recent Record: Qatar is playing a packed schedule over the next two years to prepare for the World Cup. The team recently won its qualifying group for the 2023 Asian Cup with a 7-0-1 record, finishing ahead of Oman, India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. There have also been friendlies against Luxembourg (1-0 win), Azerbaijan (2-1 win), Ireland (1-1 draw), Croatia B (3-1 win), and El Salvador (1-0 win).
Odds of Winning: In the Running
One to Watch: Al-Sadd advanced midfielder Hassan Al-Haydos (sometimes stylized Al-Haidos) is a menace on the attack. Nearing the end of his prime, he can do it all: dribble at defenders, win the ball in the box, and score directly from set pieces. With 31 goals in 140 international appearances, the 30-year-old leads a well-balanced Qatari group that should go deep into the tournament.
Who will advance from Group D? What matches are most interesting to you? Let us know in the comment section.