Copa Centroamericana: Friday storylines

Action from the Copa Centroamericana match between Costa Rica (white jersey) and Nicaragua on January 17, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica) 

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Honduras sealed one of Central America’s four automatic berths to the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup after earning a 1-0 win over host Panama on Tuesday. It’s possible that two more sides will stake their claims on Friday, when Matchday 4 in the 2017 Copa Centroamericana takes place Friday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez.

One things is clear, the Hondurans will secure a fourth Copa title by beating two-time defending champion Costa Rica, but they can also lift the trophy with a draw against the Ticos and a tie between Panama and El Salvador.

Here’s the slate of games:

Friday – January 20, 2017
Nicaragua (1 pt.) v Belize (1 pt.), 4:00 p.m.
Honduras (9 pts.) v Costa Rica (5 pts.), 6:30 p.m.
Panama (4 pts.) v El Salvador (4 pts.), 9:00 p.m.

What are some potential storylines heading into Friday? gives you a look at the topics on which you should keep an eye.

Which other teams could be Gold Cup bound?
With wins on Friday, Costa Rica and either Panama or El Salvador will book tickets to the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Things would become very interesting, however, if Honduras beats Costa Rica; either Belize or Nicaragua wins; and the Panama-El Salvador game ends in a draw. If each of those scenarios occur, three teams will be sitting on five points (Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador) and one (either Belize or Nicaragua) on four points, setting up a fascinating last matchday on Sunday, with avoiding a Gold Cup qualifying playoff against Haiti being the priority. 

Perfect Honduras
Only twice has a team raced through a Copa Centroamericana gauntlet with an unblemished record, the last was Honduras in 1993, while the other was Costa Rica in the inaugural 1991 edition. Each posted 3W-0D-0L records. If Honduras is to match that feat in 2017, it will have to do so by winning five straight games. The Catrachos are off to a 3-0-0 start, but if that run is to continue, they will first have to knock off two-time defending champion Costa Rica on Friday. Something will have to give: Costa Rica is unbeaten in its last 11 Copa matches (7-4-0), while Honduras has won four straight in the competition for the first time since 2007-09.

Nicaragua’s building confidence
A 0-0 stalemate with two-time defending champion Costa Rica was arguably Nicaragua’s greatest-ever Copa Centroamericana result. In 41 previous all-time matches, the Pinoleros registered only four wins and four draws. None of those results, however, came against a side that occupied the top CONCACAF spot in the FIFA Rankings at that time. A 2-0 win over Guatemala in the 2009 match for fifth place secured Nicaragua a place in that year’s Gold Cup, but draws against El Salvador and Belize helped it arrive at that point. Can Nicaragua capitalize on the momentum gained by taking a point off the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarterfinalist? It will have to beat Belize on Friday to prove that it learned a great lesson.