2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup:Group A- Tournament Favourites

Arch-rivals Mexico and USA will be the favourites to win the title. El Tri and the Yanks have won eight of the ten previous competitions, a biennial cup of nations for North, Central America and the Caribbean zone. Mexico are defending champions, having humiliated the host USA two years ago with a 5-0 hammering in the final in New Jersey. Back then, however, both the Mexicans and the USA took second-string sides to the Gold Cup and, as a result, the tournament was not the spectacle it might have been. This time out, spread across 13 venues in the United States, there will be no depleted squads, no excuses and no half measures as the 12 participating nations vie for a single place at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.

The 3-week tournament will host most of Europe’s football stars and I want to have a look at the key men who a greater chance of setting the tournament alight and making it a spectacle. Group A will see teams like Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Cuba lock horns against each other for the title.

GROUP A

Mexico have had more success in this tournament than any other country, winning five times since its inception in 1991. And with the veteran Márquez anchoring the back line and Manchester United’s world-class striker Javier “Chicarito” Hernández stationed up top, they are one of the clear favourites once again. The Mexican roster includes eight players who currently play for European clubs and four members of the Monterrey team that recently claimed the CONCACAF Champions League title. Striker Carlos Vela and midfielder Paul Aguilar were surprising omissions, but de la Torre’s side is still loaded with the likes of attacker Giovani dos Santos (the 2009 Gold Cup MVP) and midfielder Andrés Guardado (who set up Mexico’s first goal in the 2010 World Cup). In all, 14 players remain from the squad that advanced to knockout stages in South Africa last summer.Mexico have started the tournament on a good note by hammering El Salvador 5-0.Chicharito scored a hattrick.

Let’s have a look at the stars who can help Mexico defend their crown and qualify for the next FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.

This is the 23 man squad:

Goalkeepers:
Jose de Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca), Guillermo Ochoa (Club America)

Defenders:
Ricardo Osorio (Monterrey), Edgar Dueñas (Toluca), Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigers), Rafa Marquez (New York Red Bulls), Francisco Javier Rodriguez (PSV Eindhoven), Hector Moreno (AZ Alkmaar), Carlos Salcido (Fulham FC)

Midfielders:
Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul), Israel Castro (Pumas), Luis Ernesto Perez (Monterrey), Jesus Zavala (Monterrey), Antonio Naelson Sinha (Toluca), Angel Reyna (Club America), Efraín Juárez (Celtic FC), Andrés Guardado (La Coruña)

Forwards:
Aldo de Nigris (Monterrey), Giovani Dos Santos (Racing Santander), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Pablo Barrera (West Ham United), Elías Hernández (Monarcas)

Marquez, Dos Santos and Hernandez are the men who can help Mexico continue their dominance in the region.

Experience

Rafael Márquez Álvarez is Mexico’s most decorated player. The former Barca player now plies his trade in the MLS for New York Red Bulls .He plays as a centre back or defensive midfielder.

After spending over a decade playing in France and Spain, he was widely considered one of the best central defenders in the world. Márquez is also considered one of the best Mexican defenders of all time. He won numerous titles with Monaco and FC Barcelona. After winning the 2006 UEFA Champions League with Barcelona, he became the first Mexican to win the honour, something Mexican legend Hugo Sánchez was not able to do while playing for Real Madrid.

On July 31, 2010, Marquez was released from Barcelona.He left the club as one of the most successful foreigners ever to play for Barcelona, earning 12 titles during his 7 seasons with the club. He also scored 13 goals in 242 matches, making him the most-capped non-European player in the club’s history and the eighth most capped foreigner.

Since making his international debut on 5 February 1997 against Ecuador, Márquez has been one of the Mexican national football team’s most important players, but he was not chosen for the 1998 FIFA World Cup squad. Márquez has played various tournament’s with the Mexican team, winning the 1999 Confederations Cup and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Márquez started all four of Mexico’s games during the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, where he was given the Captain’s Armband by then coach Javier Aguirre despite his young age of 23. Despite a strong performance during the group stage of the tournament, he received a red card during Mexico’s second round 2–0 loss to the United States for a deliberate midair head butt on Cobi Jones in the final minutes of the match. Márquez was an integral part of Mexico’s subsequent World Cup qualification campaign and was selected by Ricardo Lavolpe for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Former Mexican coach Hugo Sánchez asked Márquez to participate in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and the 2007 Copa América. Rafael joined up with the team Mexico for the Gold Cup’s championship game against the United States after the conclusion of 2006–07 La Liga; Rafa started the match, a game that Mexico lost 2–1.

Marquez captained the Mexico national football team at the 2010 World Cup. Marquez scored Mexico’s first goal against South Africa in the 79th minute against the hosts tying the game one a piece. On 29 March, 2011, Marquez became the eighth player in history to reach 100 caps for Mexico in a friendly match against Venezuela were Mexico drew 1-1.

 

Danger man

Manchester United striker Javier Hernández Balcázar who plays with the nickname Chicharito on his shirt will pose a threat for opposing defenders.He made his debut for Mexico in September 2009 in a match against Colombia and represented them at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, scoring twice. He is the son of Javier Hernández Gutiérrez and the grandson of Tomás Balcázar.

His father, Javier Hernández Gutiérrez, himself a previous Mexican international striker, said he never thought his son would actually make it as a professional. Hernández joined C.D. Guadalajara at the age of nine and signed his first professional contract when he was 15. He was set to play in the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship, but an injury sidelined him from the team that ultimately won the championship.

Manchester United were first made aware of Hernández in October 2009; a scout went to Mexico that December and reported positively after watching a few games. Because of Hernández’s age, the club originally planned to wait before making a move to sign him, but his potential involvement with the national team at the World Cup rushed the club into making a bid. United’s chief scout, Jim Lawlor, was sent to Mexico for three weeks in February and March to watch Hernández and filed another positive report on him, before the club solicitor went over to Mexico to finalise the paperwork.

Hernández made his United debut on 28 July, coming on as a 63rd-minute substitute for Nani in the 2010 MLS All-Star Game; he scored his first goal for the club 18 minutes later, lobbing the ball over Nick Rimando from just outside the area after a long through-ball from Darren Fletcher. Two days later, Hernández scored against Manchester United while playing in a friendly for his old club, Chivas; he started the game in a Chivas jersey and scored after just eight minutes. He switched sides at half-time, but he was unable to prevent a 3–2 defeat for Manchester United.

Hernández made his competitive debut on 8 August and scored his first goal in the process, netting United’s second of a 3–1 victory over Chelsea in the 2010 FA Community Shield. He came on at the start of the second half and got on the end of a pass from Antonio Valencia before the Mexican’s shot deflected off his own face and into the net.[17] On 16 August, Hernández made his Premier League debut as he replaced Wayne Rooney in the 63rd minute of their 3–0 home victory over Newcastle United. He scored his first Champions League goal on 29 September, coming off the bench to score the only goal in an away win over Valencia. He scored his first league goal for United in a 2–2 home draw against West Bromwich Albion on 16 October.

The goal against Chelsea made him the first player since Ruud van Nistelrooy to score 20 goals for the club in his debut season. Hernández capped his debut season with Manchester United by winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award on 18 May which was voted for by the fans.

Hernández was one of the 21 players called up to the Mexican under-20 national team for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.

On 11 June, Hernández made his FIFA World Cup debut during the opening game of the 2010 tournament against South Africa in a 1–1 draw, coming on in the 73rd minute to replace Guillermo Franco. On 17 June, Hernández again came off the bench and this time scored his first ever World Cup goal, netting the first in a 2–0 victory over France by springing the offside trap, latching onto a through ball from Rafael Marquez, sidestepping Hugo Lloris and sidefooting into the net. By scoring he emulated his grandfather, Tomás Balcázar, who scored against France in the 1954 World Cup.  He was elected as man of the match. On 27 June, Hernández made his first start at a World Cup and netted his second goal of the World Cup, by turning Martín Demichelis on the edge of the box before sending a left-foot shot into the roof of the net, in Mexico’s 3-1 loss against Argentina in the round of 16. FIFA’s statistical analysis showed that Hernández was the quickest player in World Cup 2010, reaching a top speed of 32.15 km/h.

Genius

Despite two seasons on the periphery at Tottenham Hotspur, even after his standout displays at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, Giovani dos Santos’ star is on the rise once more. On loan at La Liga outfit Racing Santander, the Mexican forward has become an integral part of the side in the space of just four months.

Now entering the closing stages of the Spanish season and with major international tournaments on the horizon, Los Aztecas’ No10 will be one of Mexico’s star performers.The son of former Brazilian footballer Zizinho, who played for the Mexican football clubs Club América and Club Leon in the late 1980s,his commitment has been questioned by Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, who warned him to stay away from nightclubs and revealed that he was often late for training on Mondays. Redknapp assured dos Santos, however, that he is still part of his plans at Tottenham, provided that he becomes more dedicated to his professional life.

On 31 January 2011, dos Santos joined La Liga side Racing de Santander on loan until the end of the season from Tottenham.He’s really happy with how things have gone in Santander, going back to Spanish football has been crucial. He went through two very tough years, during which he barely played.

On 26 July 2009, he helped Mexico end a ten-year drought of victory against the United States on American soil with a 5–0 victory that helped secure Mexico’s fifth CONCACAF Gold Cup. He was named player of the tournament. On 5 September 2009, dos Santos contributed to all three goals in a 3–0 win over Costa Rica in the 2010 World Cup qualification stages. He scored the first goal from outside the penalty box with his preferred left foot and assisted in the following two goals.

When his brother Jonathan dos Santos was cut from Mexico’s final 23-man squad for the 2010 World Cup, his father Zizinho said that dos Santos was very hurt and claimed he was unsure whether he would play in the World Cup.

In the 2010 World Cup, dos Santos started in every game for Mexico as a right winger. He completed 138 passes without providing an assist. He was voted runner-up for the FIFA young player of the tournament award, which eventually went to Thomas Müller of Germany.

This year’s Gold Cup will be a great opportunity for Mexico and the United States to battle it out for CONCACAF bragging rights…

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