By Chris Swanson
June 18th, 2014 (ISH) The past two World Cups haven’t been kind to CONCACAF, the soccer region that includes North American, Central American and Caribbean nations.
In Germany in 2006, four CONCACAF teams – Mexico, the United States, Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago – all qualified for the tournament, yet just one (Mexico) advanced out of the group stage before falling in the round of 16.
In 2010, three teams – Mexico, the United States and Honduras – went to South Africa and Honduras failed to win a game while the United States and Mexico each lost in the round of 16.
In the past six World Cups, just one CONCACAF team has gotten past the first knockout round, as the United States defeated Mexico before losing to Germany in the quarterfinals in 2002.
But that may change this year.
After the first game of group play, CONCACAF teams are 3-1, as Mexico defeated Cameroon, 1-0, the U.S. beat Ghana, 2-1 and Costa Rica pulled one of the biggest surprises of the tournament with a 3-1 win over Uruguay, which placed fourth in 2010. Honduras, however, dropped a tough game to France, 3-0.
Two of the victories occurred in the northeast town of Natal, where Oribe Peralta’s goal in the 61st minute lifted El Tri over Cameroon in a Group A game on June 13, sending the pro-Mexican crowd at Arena das Dunas into a frenzy.
“The boys surpassed the expectations I had of them,” Mexico Coach Miguel Herrera told reporters after the game. “We had many opportunities to score and we worked really well with a lot of desire.”
Three days later, Clint Dempsey needed just 29 seconds to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead over Ghana, marking the fastest goal by the U.S. in World Cup history. Eighty-five minutes later, John Brooks’ header gave the U.S. a 2-1 win and a much-needed three points in the Group G standings.
“We fight to the last second,” U.S. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann told reporters after the game. “It was a grind but a wonderful win at the end of the day. There are undoubtedly things that we need to improve on. The U.S. team always has a great spirit.”
Dempsey said the U.S. made a statement by beating Ghana, which had knocked his team out of the past two World Cups.
“It was a dream come true,” he told reporters after the game. “We showed a lot of character. We have to do a better job at keeping possession and building out of the back. We have to stay sharp on set pieces. This win will give us confidence going into the next game. The boys showed a lot of heart. Our fitness showed.”
In between the wins by Mexico and the U.S., Costa Rica rallied for a 3-1 win over Uruguay at the Estádio Plácido Aderaldo Castelo in Fortaleza on June 14. Joel Campbell, Óscar Duarte and Marco Ureña each scored during a 30-minute span to lift the Ticos to their first World Cup win since 2002.
“It is a historic triumph for football in Costa Rica,” Costa Rican Coach Jorge Luis Pinto said. “We had worried a lot about their passing game but today we beat them. It’s an important victory that motivates us. I want to congratulate the team for their tactical defense work. It is a beautiful win – we dedicate it to the [Costa Rican] people.”
But what does one game mean? A lot.
During the previous four World Cups – 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 – 46 out of 128 countries won their first match – and 39 advanced to the round of 16 by finishing in the top two in their group.
The seven teams that failed to make it out of group play during that span were Argentina, Costa Rica and Russia in 2002, the Czech Republic and South Korea in 2006 and Slovenia and Switzerland in 2010.
So what does that mean for Honduras as it prepares to face Ecuador on June 20 in a Group E game after each lost its opener? It depends on how you look at it.
Just four teams who lost their World Cup openers in the past four World Cups have advanced out of group play. But the last squad to accomplish the feat was quite a memorable one, as Spain rebounded from a loss to Switzerland to win the championship in 2010.
“We are the Cinderella of our group,” Honduran Coach Luis Suárez told reporters. “If someone wants to beat us, they are going to have to try very hard.”
World Cup Wednesday
Group B: Chile vs. Spain
Where: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
Significance: Chile can clinch a spot in the round of 16 for the second straight World Cup with a win over defending champion Spain, which could be eliminated with a loss. If the teams tie, Chile could advance out of group play with a win or a tie against the Netherlands on June 23.
Last game: Chile defeated Australia, 3-1, while Spain fell to the Netherlands, 5-1.
Keep an eye on: Chile: Alexis Sánchez. The forward opened the scoring in the 12th minute against Australia before Jorge Valdivia scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal two minutes later. Spain: Xabi Alonso. He was the lone bright spot for Spain in its 5-1 loss to the Netherlands. Alonso opened the scoring by converting a penalty shot, but it quickly unraveled for the world’s top-ranked team against the Dutch.
Key to the game: Chile: Patience. All the pressure is on Spain after it got blown out 5-1 against the Netherlands. Chile has the benefit of using a tie much more to its advantage than Spain. Spain: Play with urgency. A loss and a Spanish dynasty that has seen the team win the past two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup is likely over. If Chile and the Netherlands win, Spain and Australia’s final game against each other is moot.
Projected starting lineups: Chile: Goalie: Claudio Bravo. Defenders: Gary Medel; Mauricio Isla; Eugenio Mena; Gonzalo Jara. Midfielders: Marcelo Díaz; Charles Aránguiz; Jean Beausejour; Jorge Valdivia. Forwards: Alexis Sánchez; Jorge Vargas. Spain: Goalie: Iker Casillas. Defenders: César Azpilicueta; Sergio Ramos; Gerard Piqué; Jordi Alba. Midfielders: Xabi Alonso; Sergio Busquets; Xavi. Forwards: Diego Costa; David Silva; Andrés Iniesta.