2021 CONCACAF FUTSAL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
Although it has been delayed by a year, seen the number of participating nations gradually drop from an initial 20 to 16 and now 13, with no fans in attendance in arguably the best futsal arena in the confederation, the 2021 CONCACAF Futsal Championships gets under way Monday May 3rd with four tickets to the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup on the line.
You just can’t hold futsal down.
Here is a look at all four groups and what we can expect throughout the week. Groups A, B, and C will have three teams each while group D has four. The top two nations from each group will move on to the quarter-finals. The winners of the quarters will not only advance to the semi-finals but also book their spot in Lithuania this fall.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
This group initially featured Guadeloupe and Martinique, who were both forced to withdraw due to COVID-19, but now sees the Dominican Republic move over from group C. The winners and runners up of Group A will cross over to play the winners and runners up of Group D.
Guatemala were looking very forward to hosting this tournament for the fourth time in front of a notoriously raucous crowd and replicating their championship performance of 2008 when they last won the title inside the famed Domo Polideportivo. Still, even without the fans, they are easily the favourites to win this group as they have qualified for three consecutive World Cups and have spent considerable time training and playing exhibition games, including a recent tour in Brazil in which they played high level clubs including juggernauts Magnus Futsal. They will look to improve upon their third place finish in 2016 and will be disappointed if they don’t win the tournament. 28 year-old Winger Jonatan Arevalo, who scored four goals in one game in 2016, is a part of their 14 man roster.
Trinidad and Tobago come into the competition after missing out on the group stage in 2016. Now coached by American FIFA Futsal Instructor, Cony Constantin, the Soca Warriors are an athletic group of soccer players who have been training hard for the past few months and just this past week played a pair of friendlies against defending champions Costa Rica in which they were defeated both times, but gained valuable experience and confidence against top opposition. The deciding game in this group will surely be the Trinidad / Dominican Republic match on Tuesday May 4th and will make for great viewing. Two key players to watch will be defender Jameel Neptune and promising 21 year old winger Che Benny.
The Dominican Republic is the lowest ranked team in the competition mostly because this is their tournament debut, but they cannot be taken lightly. They are led by Argentinian coach Carlos Boccicardi, a former futsal club player who also coached the DR 2018 Youth Olympic Games U18 women’s team. He has been working with experienced coaches from back home including current World Cup winning coach, Diego Giustozzi, and has put a very strong emphasis on physical conditioning. Some DR players also have experience playing abroad, including in Spain, and one shouldn’t be surprised at all if they move on to the next round.
The winners and runners up of Group B will crossover to play the winners and runners up of Group C.
Despite being a soccer powerhouse, Mexico have been the underachievers of CONCACAF, having never won the championship and failed to qualify for the 2016 World Cup in Colombia. The highest they have ever finished was a third place result 25 years ago. However, Los Tricolores recently hired a new coach in Juan Pablo Vivanco who took the reins from Ramon Raya and is bringing a different, futsal specific approach to the team.
Many of the players on Mexico played in the 2019 IFA futsal tournament in China, having finished 2nd to Sweden and several players from that team also play for Club Ensenada. Mexico most recently played club teams in Guatemala in preparation for this tournament and are looking to finally break out and show the region that they are truly serious about futsal. If they pull off a win against Panama, Mexico could very well be on their way back to the World Cup.
Since 2004 when they finished 5th, Panama have steadily improved by one spot at every tournament with their best result as runners-up in 2016. Can they continue that trend by lifting their first title this time around? They certainly have a decent chance given how much futsal they have been playing as of late. Los Canaleros have traveled extensively to play nations that have already qualified for the World Cup, including Venezuela and African champions Morocco. It is interesting that they changed coaches within the past few months, with Venezuelan Jose Botana taking over from Porfirio Rebolledo. Panama also defeated a strong Uzbekistan side at the 2016 World Cup, no easy task, and are a favourite to qualify for their third consecutive World Cup.
With big name opponents, not many are giving Suriname a chance to make it to the knockout stages. But the small Southern Caribbean nation has shown growth in futsal development over the years, with much thanks to program developer Rolf Verwey. This will be their first appearance in the CONCACAF tournament since 2004 when they were grouped with Mexico, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago. They hosted a four nations tournament in 2018 in which they beat both French Guiana and a formidable Curacao side before losing the final to Guatemala. Key players for Suriname will be wingers Vano Sastromedjo and Ike Adams, both very quick and intelligent players.
Defending champions Costa Rica are widely tipped to finish top of Group C for obvious reasons. They have won this tournament a record three times, including the last two, and bulldozed their way to the 2016 title with truly dominant 7-1 and 4-0 wins over Guatemala and Panama. Later on that year, they went on to become the only CONCACAF team to advance to the knockout stages at the World Cup after drawing 2-2 against eventual world champions Argentina. Amazingly, they haven’t lost at the CONCACAF championships since the 2008 tournament and Coach Carlos Quiros will be quite keen on keeping that streak alive. They will have to do it however without star player Diego Zuniga who is out due to an injury. He is likely the most well-known futsal player in the confederation.
Canada hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since 1989 when it was known as the FIFA Futsal World Championship. In 2016, the Canucks pulled a minor upset of the U.S. in a two-legged playoff to earn a spot in the group stage. They gave Costa Rica their only scare at the 2016 tournament when they lost by a single goal in the opening match in front of a capacity Ticos crowd, went on to defeat Curacao in their second match before dropping their final game against Cuba. They traveled to Costa Rica in early 2020 and defeated two local club teams and were able to build confidence with a 2-1 win over the national team before drawing their final match 2-2. They will be without their past three players of the year, including top players Mohamed Farsi and Jacob Orellana, but will see veteran leadership with eight returning payers from the 2016 championship, including defensive stalwart, Eduardo Jaragui, the dynamic Ian Bennett, who is making his third tournament appearance, and 2016 CFC Golden Boot winner Freddy Moojen.
Haiti returns to the CONCACAF Championships for the first time since 2008. Economic troubles halted the sport’s development in the country but a unique factor this time around will see the roster made up of mostly Canadians with Haitian passports, including Montreal-based Head Coach Alex Kenol. Naturally the game against Canada will be interesting because of how well the players know each other. Jean-Gilles Berlin and Mitchell Syla are the players to watch and although they are underdogs in this group, they possess players with years of futsal club experience and plenty of heart and will not be taken lightly at all.
The only group with four teams, Group D will see every team play on three consecutive days, either an advantage or disadvantage depending on your perspective. That could make for either well conditioned players or very tired legs for the make-or-break quarter-finals with only one rest day after matchday 3.
The United States haven’t made the World Cup since 2008 and as a result they made a coaching change, bringing in former Serbian assistant national coach Dusan Jakica to take the helm. At first glance it is a very different look USA team that failed to make the 2016 group stage after losing in the qualifiers to Canada. Only two players are returning from that team (pivot Danny Mattos and GK Eduardo Macias) and have placed a strong emphasis on futsal specific players this time around, with the prime example being goalkeeper Diego Moretti, who plays his club futsal in Italy. Also keep an eye out for experienced Argentinean-American Luciano Gonzalez as well. The U.S. is looking to make a statement of intent that they’re top contenders once again. They have won the tournament on two occasions, 1996 and 2004. If they are able to beat Cuba in the group stage they have an excellent chance to get back to the World Cup.
After finishing as runners-up in the first four CONCACAF Championships, Cuba have failed to crack the top three in the past two tournaments. After a big win over Canada in 2016 to advance to the knockout stage they lost consecutive one goal matches in the semi-final against Panama (6-5 AET) and then dropped a 3-2 decision to Guatemala in the bronze medal match. Cuba’s roster is always one of the largest and fastest teams in the tournament and will be a difficult opponent for anyone; it’s not by chance that they have qualified for the last five World Cups. Keep an eye out for talented 25 year-old pivot, Walter Diaz Gonzalez.
El Salvador is back in the group stage after a 25 year hiatus. They were very close to making it in 2012 but lost their final qualifying game against Canada in the dying seconds. They will make the short drive to next door neighbours Guatemala looking to cause an upset. Not much is known about the current team from Central America except that they have been able to consistently train together during the pandemic due to its small land mass and the short proximity of each other. One thing is for sure, at every Central American qualifying tournament they give every team they face solid competition. 38 year-old pivot Victor Chavez will provide needed veteran leadership after representing the team at the prior two CFC qualifiers.
Back in the tournament for the first time since 2000, Nicaragua will be in the first game of the competition as they open against Cuba on Monday. They failed to win a game in Central American Qualifying in 2016, dropping both matches to Guatemala and Honduras. They are focused on youth with one of the youngest sides in the competition, only winger Elias Merlo (31) is over the age of 30. They aren’t widely tipped to advance but if they can take points off of either Cuba or the US, they will have a decent chance to take a win against El Salvador in their final group stage encounter.
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