Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
Less Like Lennart
On the eve of the Gold Cup, at the gala kickoff press conference (I assume it
was gala--for some reason I never get invited to these things), CONCACAF
President Jack Warner proclaimed proudly that the 2005 tournament was
bigger than ever. Bigger it certainly was: an all-time record 25 games
scheduled in an equally record 7 cities. And listening to Jack extol the
tournament, you might have thought that the 25 games made up a silver
jubilee and that the 7 cities were the fabled Seven Cities of Gold.
But bigger isn't necessarily better--just look at Lennart Johansson. (Can't get
enough? Look here and here.) And as Warner sat in the VIP press box at the
Final, next to none other than Sepp Blatter himself, watching the USA and
Panama lurch through 120 minutes of scoreless football, maybe even he might
have thought, for the briefest of moments, that the tournament had swelled
just a bit too large.
Fat chance. The Gold Cup exists to make money, and if the final receipts
(undisclosed, of course) show the tournament well in the black, we'll be lucky
not to find ourselves next time with 50 games in 14 cities.
A shame, too, because the Final had all the earmarks of a classic, with the
powerful Yanks against the upstart canaleros. And in a way it was a classic,
with Panama playing the home side not-quite-even-but-remarkably-bravely
before going down on penalty kicks. But in a way it was also a disaster, with
the action in fits and starts, the teams blowing chance after chance, and the
90-degree heat draining whatever life was left out of the players. Jaime
Penedo, the Panamanian keeper, was chosen man of the match, but the real
star was gravity.
In fact, the teams had run out of energy, drama, and heroics in the semifinals,
three days before. The USA had somehow survived an inspired performance
by Honduras, scoring twice in the final minutes to pick up an out-of-nowhere
2:1 victory. Panama, who if you go far enough back was once a province of
Colombia, had upset their former masters 3:2, with all 5 goals of highlight-reel
quality. This was the real climax of the competition, a stirring evening which
didn't quite erase the silliness of the past few weeks, but at least made the
long journey worthwhile.
Up until then the Gold Cup had been like most Gold Cups, only more so. This
year's model meant less than ever, because the winner wouldn't even qualify
for the next Confederations Cup. Less than half the teams were near full
strength, and three of those that were, Guatemala, Cuba, and Trinidad &
Tobago, went home early. True, there had been some exciting play--Group C,
with Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, and South Africa, had produced a boatload
of goals, and Mexico's 1:0 win over Jamaica had been a cracker. But there
had been some pretty dire play as well: Group B, with the USA, Costa Rica,
Canada, and Cuba, produced exactly one memorable moment in six games, a
rocket from Atiba Hutchinson. There had been some pleasant surprises: the
strong showing of South Africa, the enterprising play of Honduras, and of
course the success of Panama. But there had also been some major bombs:
Guatemala, who made you wonder how they'd ever qualified for the
Hexagonal; Mexico, who moped around and went out meekly at the
quarterfinals; even the USA, who had maybe one convincing game out of six.
And then there was the schedule, which in its haste to get more out of less put
several teams in a ridiculous position. Both Group B and Group C were
scheduled to play their first two games in one place (Seattle, Los Angeles),
and their third well across the country (Foxboro, Houston). So in order to
catch the planes, they had to play the second game less than 48 hours after the
first. Bruce Arena exposed the idiocy to perfection: in a record that seems
unlikely to be broken, he replaced all eleven of his starters from Thursday
night to Saturday afternoon.
Of course, it wouldn't be the Gold Cup without the "guest teams." Colombia
didn't even try to field a strong side, saving their regulars for the stretch drive
in the qualifiers. South Africa seemed genuinely interested, but almost didn't
get a team together at all. It wasn't a FIFA date, so the Euro clubs refused to
release their players, and even the South African clubs held back--they had a
local tournament they figured was more important. So Colombia brought a B
minus side, and South Africa more like C. The joke was that they both beat
Mexico, in Colombia's case on one of the freakiest goals you'll ever see--a
random 40 yard-whack from Abel Aguilar that somehow hit the target with
the keeper off his line. The other joke was that Panama, in their run to the
Final, didn't beat a single team from the confederation. In fact, they had a
minus score against CONCACAFers, drawing with T&T and losing to
Oh, and speaking of guest teams--when Colombia eliminated Mexico, that
made the fourth consecutive Gold Cup, and 5 out of 6, in which a team from
outside the confederation had knocked out the USA or Mexico. Maybe I'm
missing something, but if Mexico and the USA are your flagship teams, maybe
you kind of want to keep them in the tournament? If only, um, for the gate
and the TV ratings? Can someone do the math, please?
Which brings us to attendance. Except the Final, every day was a
doubleheader, so there was plenty of football to see. In Seattle and Foxboro,
where the USA played its group games, they averaged only 15K per date. In
Miami, home to Honduras, T&T, Panama, and Colombia, even worse, around
13K. On the brighter side, Mexico, always the big draw, lured big crowds in
Los Angeles and Houston, including a whopping 60K for the quarterfinals in
Reliant Stadium. But after Mexico's exit, the semifinals in New Jersey drew
only 40K, and the Final only 30K. Most telling of all: the quarterfinal
doubleheader USA-Jamaica and Honduras-Costa Rica drew less than 25K in
Foxboro, while on the same day over 50K showed up in Chicago for a
meaningless friendly between a couple of teams named Real Madrid and
Chivas. We may not be the most sophisticated of fans, but we know when
we're getting star quality.
A word or two about the refereeing, which I freely admit is just an excuse to
bash Peter Prendergast. Prendy has a decent game now and then, but he's best
known for his high-profile mistakes. You saw him in action at the 2002 World
Cup, where he disallowed an obviously legal goal for Marc Wilmots in the
Belgium-Brazil match. In the Gold Cup he was in fine form, handing Costa
Rica a win over Canada with a truly horrific PK call, and missing an obvious
penalty when Victor Coello brought down DaMarcus Beasley in the
Honduras-USA semifinal. But let's give equal time to Rodolfo Sibrian and his
crew for the Panama-Colombia semi: Colombia had two legal goals disallowed
and Panama had a man ejected for a second yellow on a play in which
absolutely no contact occurred.
But we're football fans, which means we're expert at finding that pinpoint of
light in the all-devouring darkness. So let's also note that Carlos Batres of
Guatemala refereed a solid Final. And let's thank our stars there was no
third-place game. And let's close our story with some good memories indeed:
first-class goals from Chris Birchall, Jared Borgetti, Jermaine Hue, Atiba
Hutchinson, Jairo Patiño, and Ricardo Phillips; the unbounded joy of the
Panamanian players and fans; Landon Donovan's truly weird narcissistic
labial pre-penalty-kick ritual (I won't even try to describe it--get a tape). And
let's look resolutely forward, shall we? to the 2007 Gold Cup, to be held we're
not sure where, with we're not sure what teams, under we're not sure what
rules--and hope that next time we get something that looks and walks a little
less like Lennart.
And now capsule reviews of the teams:
Went largely with youth, and were largely disappointing. They were unlucky
to lose to Costa Rica, but the ticos fielded a B team, and Canada never looked
like scoring. Against the USA they showed no initiative at all, and against a
clearly inferior Cuba they couldn't put the game away. (The whole world was
rooting for a 3:0 victory over Cuba so that Canada would go to lots against
Colombia to advance--just check your Gold Cup history.) The only real
standout was Atiba Hutchinson, who played well in both midfield and defense,
and scored one of the best goals of the tournament. On the dribble Dwayne
DeRosario looked like Ronaldinho, but when he had to set up a teammate or
score himself it was more like Ronald McDonald.
Mostly youngsters and retreads, and despite making the semifinals, a very
ordinary showing. They missed a lot of chances, and only in the first half
against Mexico did they look convincing. Two losses to former province
Panama is about as humiliating as it gets. Tressor Moreno got on the
all-tournament team, and Jairo Patiño scored a couple of nice goals in the
semifinal, but I doubt whether anyone significantly improved their chances
with the big squad.
Brought the fewest regulars of all the Hexagonal teams, and it showed. They
played solid defense, but if they produced a single good chance from open
play in all three group games, I didn't see it. Instead they scored on three
penalty kicks (one bogus, one iffy, one legitimate) and one corner kick (nice
header from Randall Brenes). The 0:0 draw with the USA snapped the Yanks'
18-game win streak in Gold Cup group play, but the game itself was a dreadful
bore. Ironically, it was the defense that failed in the quarterfinal against
Honduras, with two horrible giveaways for goals. When the team finally
discovered that attack was an option, it was too late. Michael Umaña played
well on defense until the quarterfinal, and Brenes had a few moments. But no
one really helped themselves.
Not a disaster, but nowhere near what had been hoped for. This was supposed
to be their breakout tournament--after almost eliminating Costa Rica in the
qualifiers, the program seemed to be on the way up. But coach Miguel
Company left last year, and his replacement, Armelio Luís Garcia, lacks
international experience. They got close to a draw against both the USA and
Costa Rica, but those were C and B squads respectively. Against Canada, with
a mathematical chance to advance to the next round, they were lifeless. Key
man Lester Moré scored an early goal against the USA, then by and large
disappeared. Strike partner Maikel Galindo made the biggest headlines when
The chapines are famous for flopping at the Gold Cup, but they outdid
themselves this time. Down 0:2 to Jamaica after 5 minutes, down 0:2 to
Mexico after 14 minutes, most of the time they just looked unprepared. (And
this was almost the full squad, too.) The defense, long a problem spot, was
embarrassing. No one emerged at any spot on the field as a future contributor.
Striker Edwin Villatoro, who had looked so good in the Hexagonal against
Costa Rica, was invisible. Even Carlos Ruiz, despite a hat trick against
Jamaica, seemed subpar. Before drawing the final group match against South
Africa, Guatemala had lost an incredible 7 straight games, counting the
Hexagonal, friendlies, and the Gold Cup--and one wonders now if their WCQ
semi performance was a fluke. Still, home games against Panama, the USA,
and Costa Rica give them a big Hexagonal schedule advantage. They'll need
Maybe even a bigger surprise than Panama (and beat Panama in their group
game). The catrachos came without most of their stars, but played within
themselves, were dynamic and creative, and probably deserved to beat the
USA. Old-timers Tyson Nuñez and Wílmer Velázquez rolled back the years,
prime players Danilo Turcios and Ivan Guerrero showed their stuff, and young
wingbacks Oscar Garcia and Mario Berrios showed promise for the future.
Best of all was the return of centerback Samuel Caballero, formerly one of the
best in the region, absent forever with knee injuries. He played three games
and looked a lot like the Caballero of old. Add David Suazo, Maynor Suazo,
Amado Guevara, and Edgard Álvarez, and this would be some team. How did
they miss the Hexagonal?
Under new head coach Wendell Downswell, a mix of local boys and
legionnaires, lively but undisciplined. Went on the attack consistently, and
were a lot of fun to watch, but after a brilliant effort against Mexico got
exposed against the USA. Ricardo Fuller may be an exciting dribbler, but still
needs to learn to combine with his teammates. Jermaine Hue scored two
marvelous goals but was inconsistent in the playmaker role. Khari Stephenson
is a comer in the middle of the park, and 20-year-old Luton Shelton has
possibilities at forward. But their best midfielder was Andy Williams, and by
far their best defender was Tyrone Marshall, and neither of those guys is
getting any younger. There's still lots of rebuilding to do.
You probably heard about last week's kidnapping of Ruben Omar Romano,
head coach of Cruz Azul. Word is the captors originally planned to take
Ricardo LaVolpe, until they realized no one would pay the ransom. (Hey-ho!
What's Spanish for "rimshot"?) But Mexico was simply following the pattern:
when they take the Gold Cup seriously, they win it; when they don't, they get
eliminated early. LaVolpe actually brought four starters (Jared Borgetti, Sinha,
Ricardo Osorio, and Carlos Salcido), which was four more than expected. But
after the epic Confederations Cup you could hardly expect them to stay
interested. Salcido in fact tried unsuccessfully to beg off the team. Borgetti
feasted on some inferior defenses, but when he was suspended for the
quarterfinal, they had no replacement, and went down. No worries--they'll be
back in the saddle come August.
A week before the tournament, top striker José Luís Garcés and substitute
keeper Oscar McFarlane were thrown out of camp for disciplinary reasons.
Regular starting keeper Donaldo González, told he would be kept mostly in
reserve, refused to make the trip. When the competition opened, they were
last in the Hexagonal and confirmed also-rans. Three weeks later they were
national heroes. Keeper Jaime Penedo was easily the player of the
tournament, quick, aggressive, and precise. Luís Tejada was tireless up front,
showed he could pass as well as finish, and finished joint topscorer with 3
goals. The superhuman Dély Valdés brothers, combined age 236, came out of
retirement to provide leadership, inspiration, one assist, and two goals. Alberto
Blanco was indispensable in midfield. And the lads came within a lottery of
taking the whole thing. They're now a popular pick to finish fourth in the
Hexagonal--but let's be cautious. Without taking anything away from their
effort and achievement, remember: 1) they didn't beat a single CONCACAF
team; 2) the USA had fewer than half their regulars in the Final; 3) the
Hexagonal is much more intense than the Gold Cup. They're back at their
March level, when they excelled against Costa Rica and Mexico, but they've
given away a lot of points, and will have to continue in top form. They're at
Guatemala in August and home to Costa Rica in September, and anything less
than 4 points will be fatal. My advice to Cheché: keep Garcés out and the
Dély Valdés brothers in. Chemistry is vital to this unit, and at the Gold Cup
they showed how far it can take you.
If any team looked like a loser, it was Bafana Bafana, whose "preparations"
had been the far side of nightmare. But they acquitted themselves well,
beating Mexico and only going out on PK's in the quarterfinals. Star man was
2002 World Cup scorer Siyabonga Nomvete, who lost his starting spot last
year, but whose pace and trickery could get him back in the lineup for the
final WC qualifiers. Phillip Evans was useful at holding midfielder, Lucky
Legwathi showed well at right back, and Lungisiani Ndlela, winner of the
Tallest Player Out There By Far award, showed he was more than a beanpole,
scoring two goals. Whether anyone besides Nomvete can make an impact in
the WCQ stretch is doubtful. But it was a nice tournament for the boys
Trinidad & Tobago
Started fast, with Chris Birchall's classic 25-yard strike against Honduras, but
faded even faster, and in the end were a disappointment. For a wizard and
savior, Leo Beenhakker made some very odd choices. He started Stern
"Coldest Striker in the Universe" John all three games. He started Cyd Gray at
right back all three games, too, although it was clear early on that Gray was
overmatched. And he put Cornell Glen, a born striker, at left midfield against
Colombia. T&T had some excuse--their two most creative players were
missing (Dwight Yorke, club commitment; Carlos Edwards, injury). But no
one stepped into the breach. Best news was the continuing solid play of
Marvin Andrews and Dennis Lawrence in the back. Kelvin Jack had his
moments in goal, but I confess I'm not convinced yet. The August game at the
USA is a freebie, but by September they'll have to be back in form.
Rarely has a tournament winner looked so uninspired. The USA likes to talk
about their depth, but it was shallow paddling all the way at the Gold Cup.
The attack was Beasley and Donovan, or perhaps Donovan and Beasley, and
if they were absent or off their game, there was nothing doing. At the moment
the team has no third striker. The back line looks very slow, and the highly
touted Oguchi Onyewu is still way too raw for prime time. Two pieces of good
news: midfielder John O'Brien is back (at least until he gets injured again) and
Kasey Keller is still alive (and if you missed the post-Final interview on
Univision, speaks a pretty decent brand of Spanish, too!). The USA is sitting
pretty in the Hexagonal, but goes into the second half with lots of
injuries--Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Johnson, Pablo Mastroeni, Eddie Pope,
Steve Ralston. Four years ago, under similar circumstances, they collapsed.
That's unlikely to happen again, but the road home might be a stagger rather
than a breeze.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.