Real Esteli hot start, Auzmendi hat-trick among top moments
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Real Esteli hot start, Auzmendi hat-trick among top moments

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MIAMI, Florida – With the knockout stage of the 2023 Concacaf Central American Cup set to resume next week, it is time to take a look back at some of the best moments from last month’s thrilling group stage.

Real Esteli shake up Group B

In their entire history in Concacaf competition, Real Esteli had never advanced from a group stage to reach a knockout round in a tournament until their history-making performance in this year’s Central American Cup group stage.

Drawn into Group B, Real Esteli shook things up by winning their first three matches, including a scintillating 1-0 home win over Honduran giants and 2022 Concacaf League champions Olimpia, to win three games in a single Concacaf tournament for the first time and also become the first team to qualify for the quarterfinal stage.

Costa Rican clubs stand tall

Costa Rica has always been one of the top domestic leagues in the Concacaf region and it certainly flexed its muscles in the Central American Cup group stage by placing four teams into the eight-team quarterfinal round. Saprissa, Alajuelense, Herediano and Cartagines all punched their tickets to the final eight, and even more impressive was Saprissa, Herediano and Alajuelense all winning their respective groups.

With Cartagines and Alajuelense scheduled to face off in the quarterfinal round, Costa Rica are assured of having at the bare minimum one team from the country in the semifinals, meaning a Costa Rican club will for certain qualify for the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup.

First Concacaf wins for Olancho, Coban Imperial

While the 2023 Central American Cup came to an end in the group stage for both Honduran club Olancho and Coban Imperial of Guatemala, both clubs will feel encouraged by their maiden voyages in Concacaf competition.

Coban Imperial could not have asked for a better start, winning their first ever match in a Concacaf tournament when they defeated Jocoro of El Salvador 4-1 to open Group A. The Chapines would go on to secure a 0-0 draw with Panama’s Universitario in their second match, giving themselves a chance to qualify for the knockout stage on the final matchday.

Drawn into a difficult Group D with Concacaf heavyweights Alajuelense and Motagua, Olancho held their own against stiff competition, losing by a single goal to those former Concacaf League finalists before earning a first ever Concacaf win against Verdes of Belize. It came in dramatic fashion, too, with Marvin Obando scoring the winning goal in the final minute of second half stoppage time.

Saprissa defense locks it down

There were numerous impressive performances from teams throughout the group stage, but special mention goes to three-time Concacaf champions Saprissa of Costa Rica, who were the only side to have kept a clean sheet in all four of their group stage matches.

It was no surprise to see that Esteban Alvarado was behind it all. The veteran GK made 18 saves over the four games to help Saprissa outscore their opponents 10-0, giving him a total of five clean sheets in Concacaf competition.

Auzmendi sparkles in Motagua debut

Agustin Auzmendi was one of the biggest transfers of the summer in Honduran football. After banging in 23 goals in 35 games with Olancho in 2022-23, Auzmendi made the move to three-time Concacaf League finalists Motagua.

Needless to say, his impact was immediately felt, as he scored three goals in a span of 13 minutes to give himself a hat-trick in Motagua’s opening match of Group D, a 5-0 win in Belize against Verdes. Auzmendi would go on to finish the group stage as the tournament’s top scorer with four goals, and with Motagua qualified for the knockout stage, he’ll have every opportunity to add on to that total.