Image source: The JFF
The latest and greatest edition of the CFU Caribbean Championship will be getting underway this evening. To the untrained eye, this would appear to be a simple 8 team, 2 group, round-robin tournament that lasts all of a week. However, there is much more to be revealed when we peel back the outer layers.
The Caribbean Football Union is comprised of 31 member associations. For whatever reason, but probably due to financial restraints, 5 members did not enter into this year’s competition. That’s a shame to see, given the most productive way to grow as a footballing nation is to, you know, play football.
The 2014 edition began way back in May/June, where the lowest 7 teams played a preliminary round. Two would survive, as only the group winners would qualify for the next round. Shockingly, neither host nation would advance from their respective groups. Montserrat bowed out on goal differential to Bonaire, while French Guiana throttled Aruba in a “winner take all” game on the final match day.
Both Bonaire and French Guiana joined the next 14 highest ranked teams in the First Round of the competition. The 16 teams were divided into 4 groups of 4, and played round robin style in September. This round was somewhat easier to survive. The top two teams in each group would automatically qualify to the Second Round, along with the highest ranked 3rd place team. It seems silly to advance 9 from 16, but you’ve got to keep in the context of the competition. Very small nations, with very limited resources. It’s actually pretty smart considering the nations are receiving the “Continental Qualifier” status in FIFA’s ranking permutations.
This round played out a little bit more to form, with 3 of 4 host nations winning their respective groups. Puerto Rico, as it turns out, would be the only host nation to not even advance from this round. Hindsight is always 20/20, however. El Huracán Azul was dealt a tough draw, seeing how group members Curacao and French Guiana advanced all the way to the Championship Round!
The “Cloud 9” would advance to October’s Second Round where they would meet some heavy hitters. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th ranked teams all received byes straight to this round and were also given hosting privileges. It would seem that CFU presented those 3 nations with a gift. 3 home games, all with Continental Qualifier status, and only needing to finish in their groups’ top 2 to reach the Championship Round.
Guadeloupe was the only host to fail to take advantage of this proposition, being beaten to the rum punch by Curacao and Martinique. This was a massive disappointment for a nation that has reached previous editions of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Our competition tracker (link) will show you all the gory details of the preliminary rounds. Let’s get to the Championship Round and how we think it will play out.
This year, Jamaica qualified automatically as the host nation. All games will be played at the somewhat new Montego Bay Sports Complex. Completed in 2010, the stadium has around 7,000 seats and is also the home ground for local outfit Montego Bay United. It will be interesting to see how much of a home field advantage this setting provides for the hosts. The Jamaican national team plays the bulk of its matches at the Office in Kingston. Research has revealed that the Reggae Boyz have 2 wins and 2 losses at Montego Bay. Certainly not as intimidating an atmosphere, but probably more appropriate given the size and nature of the competition.
It should be noted that group winners will advance directly to the championship match. Group runners-up will square off in a 3rd place match. Those 4 teams will represent the CFU at CONCACAF’s 2015 Gold Cup next summer. The best 3rd place team will play Honduras in a play-off to determine the final Gold Cup spot. And lastly, and probably most importantly, the champion will get to play in the 2016 special edition Copa America!
Jamaica will be joined by Martinique, Haiti, and Antigua and Barbuda in their group. When running through our simulators, it’s a shame to say, but Antigua and Barbuda look a bit overmatched in this group. The rest of the field appears to be fairly even. We currently have Martinique as the highest ranked team in the group at 83rd. I would be surprised to see Jamaica fail to finish in the top 2, but wouldn’t be stunned to see them miss out on the finals. This group is extremely competitive, and I believe goal differential will play a vital part in determining the final shake down.
Cuba is the other directly qualified nation as they are defending champions for the first time in their history. They are accompanied by Trinidad and Tobago, French Guiana, and Curacao. This group isn’t as competitive as the other. Our simulations give Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba the inside track to the Gold Cup while French Guiana and Curacao will be looking for respect more than results.
I think Jamaica, with the home field advantage secures direct qualification to the Gold Cup next summer along with Martinique. Jamaica had a terrible showing at the last CFU Championship and missed out on the Gold Cup altogether. They will make amends here and return to the continental finals. Haiti will finish third and will face Honduras in the play-off.
The other group should be easier to predict. Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago will both qualify for the Gold Cup. As much as I want to see either French Guiana or Curacao next summer in Red Bull Arena, I just can’t see it happening. The big match here will obviously be when Cuba and T&T square off. I think Trinidad takes it to set up an intriguing final with Jamaica.
The final will be a heated contest, and has a great chance of needing extra time to resolve. Should native Jamaicans turn out in numbers to support the Reggae Boyz, we’ll give them slight edge over the Soca Warriors to recapture Caribbean glory and reserve the right to play in Copa America 2016.
Be sure to download our match tracker to follow all of the action in what is sure to be an entertaining championship!