When Juriën Gaari scored the equalizing goal for Curaçao against Jamaica in the final match of the Gold Cup group stage, he couldn’t imagine what will happen a few hours later. His team still had a chance to qualify for the next stage, but no one believed that Honduras, who already lost their first two matches, could defeat El Salvador.
The final whistle in Los Angeles made Gaari’s goal to a decisive goal, as Honduras won 4-0 and Curaçao finished in the second place in the group. Jamaica took the top spot in that group, and only one day before it was Haiti that amazed Costa Rica and qualified to the knockouts as the group leaders. Is it a sudden Caribbean renaissance at the Gold Cup?
The Caribbean teams were left behind since the introduction of the new Gold Cup in 1991. Fewer teams got a chance to qualify through the Caribbean Cup, while teams from Central America got more spots. Moreover, the North American teams qualified automatically, and that includes Canada, a team that its strength was in doubt for years.
In recent years, CONCACAF equaled the number of Caribbean spots and Central American spots, with four teams each. The fifth-best team in each zone qualified to an inter-zonal playoff, which ended every time with a Central American win.
Except from increasing the number of participants from 12 to 16, but also the qualification system was changed before the 2019 Gold Cup. As every team could qualify via the Nations League qualifiers, more Caribbean teams had a chance to qualify. Except from Trinidad and Tobago, who qualified through the 2018 World Cup qualifiers hexagonal, seven other Caribbean teams qualified.
This change had another opportunity for these teams to get experience in playing against stronger opponents. Montserrat, who was one of the weakest teams in the world, played against two Central American teams, defeated Belize and missed the qualification by goal difference. Among the qualifiers, there were also two debutants, Bermuda and Guyana, alongside experienced teams like Jamaica and Haiti.
The progress of the Caribbean teams and Caribbean football at all is not a coincidence. There is continuous development in training grounds and stadiums, more players are trying to play in Europe, and there is also a search for talents who were born abroad.
Jamaica made history with back-to-back finals in 2015 and 2017. No Caribbean team qualified for the Gold Cup final before. At the defunct CONCACAF Championship, only Haiti managed to win the title once in 1973. Maybe this Gold Cup will be a start of a transition for the Caribbean zone, and if not, the teams will have another chance to do something in the CONCACAF Nations League in September. No matter what would be, something happens in these islands.