Trinidad and Tobago seem to have had the luck of the draw yesterday, and will avoid perennial favourites defending champions Mexico and USA at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the US in July.
Instead, T&T pulled three teams against whom they have proved to be very competitive in the past: El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras. This was more good news after T&T last year qualified for the region's blue riband event for the first time since 2006, the same year they made their only trip to the FIFA World Cup to date.
The "Soca Warriors" kick off the Gold Cup against El Salvador in New York/New Jersey on July 8, before a Miami meeting on with Haiti on July 12. They then travel to Houston, Texas to meet Honduras on July 15. The top two teams from each of three groups, as well as the two best third-placed teams, will advance to the quarter-finals.
"This is one of the better Gold Cup draws we have had in recent years," says Anton Corneal, technical director of Trinidad and Tobago football. "It gives us a lot of enthusiasm going into the Gold Cup".
"I think the draw is good in that we meet teams which we can compete well against, and also beat. I am also happy with the cities. We start against El Salvador in New York, before meeting Haiti in Miami, places where we will get some crowd support, before meeting Honduras in Houston. One of the good things is that we have avoided both the USA and Mexico early on,"
The last Gold Cup, won by Mexico in 2011, drew more than 600,000 fans throughout 13 match-days, including nine sell-outs. Millions also watched on television. Canada kick off the 2013 tournament at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, facing Martinique on July 7, while Mexico will play Panama in the second fixture of the day.
The group stage of the Gold Cup runs for nine days from July 7-16. After a four-day break, the tournament resumes with the quarter-finals in the Georgia Dome at Atlanta and M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on July 20-21. The semi-finals will be on July 24 in Dallas at Cowboys Stadium. The tournament concludes with the final in Chicago at Soldier Field.
Given the favourable draw, it is felt that the possibility exists for a well-prepared, full-strength T&T team to advance out of its group. However, Corneal said nothing should be taken for granted, and that team preparation is the greatest determining factor as to how far T&T will advance at the tournament.
Gold Cup preparations begin this Monday with local-based footballers. The Soca Warriors then play fellow Gold Cup qualifiers and much improved Belize at home on March 22, before heading to South America to play Peru on March 26.
The major part of Gold Cup preparations take place in June when there will be further warm-up matches. Main preparations take place during a three-week June camp when the Soca Warriors will have all its local and foreign-based footballers available, having completed their domestic club football season.
"We have seen both El Salvador and Honduras play at the Central American Championships, and it was good that coach Hutson Charles was able to go there. We will know what they are about, but we will definitely (take) as many warm-up matches as we can get to prepare," Corneal said.