The final group of the 2021 Gold Cup begins play tonight, with perhaps the most intriguing team of all.
Qatar, the 2022 World Cup hosts and 2019 Asian Cup champions are on paper a very intriguing team. Winning their regional tournament in 2019 is certainly impressive but their entire roster plays in Qatar which may or may not be a bad thing, I’m not an expert in Middle Eastern soccer leagues.
Qatar actually gets a pretty decent group here - Honduras is good but has laid a few stinkers in recent memory at the Gold Cup; Panama is usually penciled into the quarterfinals somewhere; and Grenada is here for the first time in a decade and has this and top flight Nations League games to look forward too. So it should be a good test and benchmark for Qatar as far as their World Cup aspirations on the field next year. If they can’t get out of this group, it might be a first sign indicator of a short World Cup stay at home.
TV SCHEDULE All times Eastern
Tuesday, July 13 (Houston)
Qatar vs. Panama, 7 p.m. (FS1)
Honduras vs. Grenada, 9:30 p.m. (FS1)
Saturday, July 17 (Houston)
Grenada vs. Qatar, 7:30 p.m. (FS1)
Panama vs. Honduras, 10 p.m. (FS1)
Tuesday, July 20 (Orlando/Houston)
Panama vs. Grenada, 9:30 p.m. (FS2)
Honduras vs. Qatar, 9:30 p.m. (FS1)
Head Coach: Michael Findlay (CAN)
FIFA Ranking: 160 Nickname: The Spice Boys
Qualification: Nations League B Flight, Group A Winners
Appearance: 3rd / Best Finish: Group Stage (2009/2011)
Roster Breakdown: 6 Domestic, 9 England, 3 USA (USL/NISA), 1 Scotland, 1 Spain, 1 Honduras, 2 Unattached
Recent Matches: 1st Rd WCQ (March/June) – L 0-2 at El Salvador, W 1-0 vs US Virgin Islands, L 0-1 at Antigua and Barbuda, L 1-2 vs Montserrat
Player To Know: F/M Jamal Charles, Real Sociadad (HON), 25 International Apperances, 14 goals – No, this isn’t the NFL running back moonlighting as a Caribbean soccer striker. But Charles racked up six goals during Nations League B Flight play including a hat trick against my beloved Belize Jaguars.
If you believe such things as the FIFA rankings, Grenada are very much out matched here. They struggled in WCQ but to their credit played every game close, especially that 0-2 loss in El Salvador. This tournament plus A Flight games in next years Nations League could help this squad make big strides ahead of the 2026 WCQ cycle. Any results they claim here would obviously be a huge deal, as Grenada have lost all six of their previous Gold Cup matches and scored just once in their previous tournaments.
Head Coach: Fabian Coito (URU)
FIFA Ranking: 67 Nickname: Los Catrachos
Qualification: Nations League A Flight, Group C Winners
Appearance: 15th / Best Finish: Runner up (1991)
Roster Breakdown: 14 Domestic, 4 MLS (USA/CAN), 1 Uruguay, 1 Portugal, 1 Costa Rica, 1 Sweden, 1 Unattached
Recent Matches: L 0-1 vs USA (Nations League Semi), D 2-2 vs Costa Rica (won 3rd place on PKs 5-4), D 0-0 vs Mexico (Friendly)
Player To Know: FWD Jerry Bengston, CD Olimpia (HON), 59 International Apperances, 21 goals – Bah Gawd King! That’s Jerry Bengston’s Music! The COVID Mask wearing, CCL goal scoring legend is back!
Players To Watch: DEF Maynor Figeroua/MID Boniek Garcia, Houston Dynamo (USA/MLS) 296 Combined International Appearnces – The Houston Duo might crack the triple century mark in this tournament which might be their swan song internationally.
Honduras has been pretty disappointing in their last few Gold Cups, only making the quarterfinals once in their last three tournaments and that was as a third place team. Their Nations League campaign was very solid, winning three games via shutout and them in the Finals losing to the USA on an 89th minute winner and then two draws against Costa Rica (winning the 3rd place game on PKs) and Mexico are something to build on.
Head Coach: Thomas Christiansen (DEN)
FIFA Ranking: 78 Nickname: Los Canaleros
Qualification: Nations League A Flight, Group B 2nd Place
Appearance: 10th / Best Finish: Runner up (2013)
Roster Breakdown: 7 Domestic, 3 Spain, 2 Costa Rica, 1 Guatemala, 1 Uruguay, 1 Turkey, 1 Boliva, 1 Serbia, 1 Belgium, 1 Austria, 1 Peru, 1 USA/MLS, 1 Colombia, 1 Mexico, 1 Ecuador, 1 Chile
Recent Matches: WCQ 1st Rd Group D Winners, Won 2nd Rd Agg Series vs Curacao 2-1, L Friendly 0-3 vs Mexico
Player To Know: MID Anibal Godoy, Nashville FC (USA/MLS), 106 International Appearances, 2 goals – The longtime SJ Quakes veteran is the only MLS representative on the roster and I could have sworn there were always more Panamanian internationals in the league before I forget I’m thinking of all 50 years Blas Perez played stateside.
Player To Watch: FWD Gabriel Torres, UNAM (MEX), 95 International Appearances, 22 goals – Torres just about has as many goals himself as the rest of Panama’s roster (28 if the Wiki is accurate) and as Panama cycles through it’s old guard that made the 2018 World Cup, Torres is still going to be an important member of the squad.
Like Jamaica, Panama are a solid and consistent bunch who are usually good for at least a quarterfinals spot as they’ve been there every tournament since 2005. While they peaked recently with a 2013 runner up spot, this Gold Cup will be a good benchmark for what they’ll likely do in WCQ later in the year and 2022.
Head Coach: Felix Sanchez (ESP)
FIFA Ranking: 58 Nickname: The Crimsons
Qualification: Special Invitee
Appearance: Debut / Best Finish: N/A
Roster Breakdown: All Domestic League Players
Recent Matches: W 3-1 at Croatia U21, W 1-0 vs El Salvador
Player To Know: FWD Almoez Ali, Al-Duhail (QAT), 62 International Apperances, 30 goals – A Sudanese-Qatari (born in Sudan to a Qatari mother), Ali was the MVP of the 2019 Asian Cup which Qatar won thanks to his tournament record 9 goals.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert at Qatari League soccer. From a pure soccer standpoint, if we need to prepare Qatar for hosting the World Cup on the field then a few games with some serious CONCACAFing will get them up to speed very quickly. I’m actually intrigued to see if their FIFA ranking holds up as I think it’s comparable to Honduras and Panama as far teams that are regionally solid but below the World Cup.
Honduras and Panama should be the favorites here unless Qatar busts in and starts dominating, which, who knows, maybe they can do that. I’m going to be conservative with Qatar’s expectations although I will point out that I think the Asian Cup is similar to the Gold Cup as far as top heavy talented teams like South Korea, Japan, Australia (after joining from the Oceanic region) and the vaunted Saudi teams of the 1990s usually the teams in the semifinals and finals. So for Qatar to break through and win the whole thing would be the equivalent of a Jamaica or Panama getting though both Mexico and the USA, which isn’t impossible and has come close to happening a few times.
But can Qatar do it on a hot, steamy night in Texas against CONCACAF teams? We’ll soon find out. Panama usually can, Honduras usually should but doesn’t, and Grenada I’m sure will make things difficult. I’m gonna have Panama steal this group win though as a knock against Honduras’ recent tournament woes.
1 ) Panama 2 ) Honduras 3 ) Qatar 4 ) Grenada