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It Seems To Me . . .

Gold Cup presages tough CONCACAF qualifying process for next World Cup.

By Robert Wagman

(Sunday, February 27, 2000) -- Oh Canada!

Its startling win of the Gold Cup, by a 2-0 score over Colombia in rainy Los Angeles sent a very clear message to the United States that it is going to have a fight on its hands to reach the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

If one thing was apparent from the various Gold Cup matches, it was that a number of countries in the hemisphere have improved their soccer programs to the point they are now ready to seriously challenge for a spot on the world stage.

One could argue that Canada was simply a team of destiny in this tournament. It was overwhelmingly outplayed by Mexico, but emerged a 1-0 winner behind the exceptional goalkeeping of West Ham United's Craig Forrest, the Gold Cup's most valuable player. Just as Kasey Keller did two years ago when the U.S. beat Brazil 1-0 in the same competition, Canada was able to ride Forrest to the big upset.

Then coach Hogar Osieck's team was out played first by Trinidad & Tobago in the semifinals, and again today, in the final by Colombia. But neither as able to able to get a ball past Forrest, and Canada has emerged as a definite threat to the U.S. being one of the three CONCACAF nations to advance to the World Cup.

The Confederation, which represents North America, Central America and the Caribbean, begins a three level elimination process next month. First zone matches take place beginning in early March. Then the survivors begin inter-zone matches in June.

The U.S., Mexico, Jamaica and Costa Rica are seeded directly into the semifinal round that runs from September though next February. Then, from March 2001 until November, the final round takes place with top three finishers in the six-country round robin qualify for the World Cup.

The U.S., Jamaica and Costa Rica are established as legitimate contenders to qualify by virtue of their seeding. Then based on their Gold Cup showing, Canada, Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago have to be factored in. Even Guatemala played well in spots, and will be difficult to defeat at home.

So based on this year's Gold Cup, eight teams have to be considered possible confederation qualifiers. While some are surely not the caliber of Mexico, all are going to be hard to handle on their home fields. What the Gold Cup showed was that U.S. coach Bruce Arena and his team have their work cut out for them.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at

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