Monday, April 8, 2013

By FIFA – North and Central America was Group 11. One team going to the finals, but it was long and elaborated road to this coveted spot. First round: three zones, one further divided into two sub-groups. Six teams going to the second round. Mexico was the favourite by far, for short of miracle, there was no team nearly as good. Mexico stumbled at first, failing to beat USA at home (1-1), and losing to Canada – 0-1 in Vancouver. Perhaps USA and Canada improved, thanks to NASL and the influence of the European stars in the league; perhaps Mexico was too arrogant and did not play seriously. But that was everything in terms of surprise: Mexico got serious, won their last two matches and won the group. USA finished last. With two out three teams going to final round it was no big deal anyway, but goal-difference decided losers and winners.

North American Zone:

1.Mexico 4 1 2 1 3- 1 4

2.Canada 4 1 2 1 2- 3 4

3.USA 4 1 2 1 3- 4 4

The Central American Zone had 4 teams. Honduras did not participate. Panama was the weakest team, the other three fought between themselves and perhaps not surprisingly ties decided the outcome: Costa Rica just ended too many games in a tie to be able to qualify.

1.Guatemala 6 3 2 1 15- 6 8

2.El Salvador 6 2 3 1 10- 7 7

3.Costa Rica 6 1 4 1 8- 6 6

4.Panama 6 1 1 4 7-21 3

The Caribbean Zone was organized differently: two sub-groups, playing not round-robin, but cup-format – direct elimination, winners advance to the second round, and then the new winners – to the final play-off, the winner of which advanced to the final stage.

Subgroup A had countries worth mentioning for only one reason: geographically, they belong to South America, but never participated in South American championships: Surinam and Guyana. As a whole, the Carribean Zone was exotic – and entirely insignificant in terms of football. Surinam won the final against Trinidad and Tobago. They clinched victory in overtime – 3-2.

Subgroup B went through its own tribulations, finally won by Haiti. Haiti won the final against Cuba – 2-0. Curiously to some degree, Cuba never developed football – something very unusual for a Communist country. It was not that Cuba neglected sports – athletics, basketball, volleyball were highly developed by the state. The reason was baseball – it was traditionally the most important sport in Cuba, with Fidel Castro a big fan. Football did not survive the competition. As for Haiti – at least they played at the 1974 World Cup, so they were somewhat the football power of the Carribean.

The second round was hosted by Mexico, which practically precluded everything. Perhaps there was no other way – Mexico had the best facilities and experience in organization. It was the most interested in football country in the continent, which was important as well – attendance was guaranteed. In front of cheering home crowds Mexico won all matches.

1.MEXICO 5 5 0 0 20- 5 10

2.Haiti 5 3 1 1 6- 6 7

3.El Salvador 5 2 1 2 8- 9 5

4.Canada 5 2 1 2 7- 8 5

5.Guatemala 5 1 1 3 8-10 3

6.Surinam 5 0 0 5 6-17 0

As if explaining why they did not play in South America, Surinam finished last, losing every match they played: too weak even for weak North and Central America. Any point of playing against Brazil and Argentina?
Once again Mexico qualified for the World Cup finals. The opposition was too weak to even give some real recognition of Mexican players – Hugo Sanchez was the bright rising star, but the really great player was the midfielder Leonardo Cuellar. The Mexican team was not bad at all – just unknown to the world.