By Dylan Butler
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – History can be made Tuesday night when Cuba and Belize meet on the final matchday in Group C of the CONCACAF Gold Cup at Rentschler Field.
For CONCACAF official notes about this game, click Here
The winner could advance to the knockout stage as one of the top two third-place teams. If it’s Cuba, it would be the team’s second time advancing to the Gold Cup quarterfinals after doing so in 2003.
“Tomorrow’s match with Belize is very important for us to go to the next phase,” Cuba head coach Walter Benitez said. “I believe that the last match and some of the things that happened will not affect us too badly and will not prejudice advancement to the next stage.”
If it’s Belize, the Jaguars would accomplish that in their first tournament appearance.
“The confidence of the group is very high,” Belize coach Ian Mork said. “The group is really united right now and motivated for this match. We also respect the Cuban team, a very good opponent and organized. We’re expecting a battle, but the confidence is high. We’re ready.”
Both teams are trying to bounce back from back-to-back losses to the United States and Costa Rica in the first two games of the group stage.
Cuba was level with Costa Rica and the United States at halftime, but conceded three second-half goals to the Ticos and three to the U.S.
“We’re very motivated for this coming match,” Cuba defender Jorge Luis Clavelo said. “I think we definitely want to put together a good first and a very good second half. We want to play hard, specifically when it comes down to the next phase. We’re prepared and we’re ready for tomorrow’s match.”
Belize, meanwhile, fell 6-1 in its opening match against the United States. The performance against Costa Rica in a 1-0 loss Saturday in Sandy, Utah, was much better, but it still put it in a difficult position Tuesday night.
“We’re happy that we could give a good performance against Costa Rica, but we realize we’re probably going to have to get three points out of this next match,” Mork said. “It’s what we’re up against and we’re ready for it.”
Unfortunately for both teams, El Salvador defeated Haiti, 1-0, Monday night. That means Belize or Cuba, which each have just one goal in the tournament, would need to win convincingly to leap over Martinique on goal difference.
“I think we have not been creating enough opportunities going forward, to really get a chance to score goals,” Belize forward Deon McCaulay said. “That’s something we’re working on. I’m anxious in the way because I’m already used to scoring in every major tournament I go into. I think we need to create more opportunities and we can go from there.”
Mork is hoping his team has more of the ball than it did against the two CONCACAF powerhouses. It will lead to more chances in the attacking third against a Cuban team that also has a minus-6 goal difference.
“Even in the last match against Costa Rica, we weren’t creating enough chances from that possession in the opponent’s half,” he said. “This game, we’re really hoping to move up the field more, get more numbers in the opponent’s half and create more chances to score.”
Benitez also believed that his team will be more aggressive in the attack against Belize. He said his team’s fitness was an issue against Costa Rica and the U.S., but that isn’t a concern against Belize.
“Tomorrow’s match with Belize is very important for us to go to the next phase,” Benitez said. “I believe that the last match and some of the things that happened will not affect us too badly and will not prejudice advancement to the next stage.”