Copa Centroamericana: Sunday storylines

Action from the Copa Centroamericana  match between Nicaragua (white jersey) and Belize on January 20, 2017, in Panama City, Panama. (Photo: Imagenes en Costa Rica)

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Three of Central America’s four guaranteed places in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup have been decided, but that doesn’t mean the last day of play at the Copa Centroamericana will lack for drama. 

Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica have booked tickets to the Confederation’s biennial championship, but there’s more to be settled on Sunday at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez. 

Here’s the slate of games: 

Sunday – January 22, 2017

Belize (1 pt.) v Honduras (10 pts.), 11:00 a.m.

El Salvador (4 pts.) v Nicaragua (4 pts.), 1:30 p.m.

Panama (7 pts.) v Costa Rica (6 pts.), 4:00 p.m. takes a look at main storylines: 

And the champion is…

By the time the final whistle blows after the first game of the tripleheader, it’s possible the champion will be identified. Table-topping Honduras needs only a draw against last-place Belize to secure a fourth-ever Copa title. If the Belizeans pull off the upset, though, the trophy’s eventual recipient won’t be clear until the conclusion of the curtain closer between host Panama and Costa Rica. The Panamanians would have to win and overcome a possible goal-difference quandary. Eight-time champion Costa Rica can finish no higher than second and no lower than fourth. 

Earning a Gold Cup ticket

Central America’s last direct berth in the CONCACAF Gold Cup will go to either El Salvador or Nicaragua. As coincidence would have it, they’ll square off against each other in the second game of the tripleheader. The sides are level on points (4) and goal difference (0), but if the match ends in a draw, the Nicaraguans will claim fourth place on the “more goals scored” tiebreaker. In other words, El Salvador needs to win in order to leapfrog Nicaragua. 

Haiti’s waiting

Just because a team finishes fifth in the Copa Centroamericana, that doesn’t mean its CONCACAF Gold Cup aspirations are over. That team – either Belize, El Salvador or Nicaragua – will progress to a two-legged qualifying playoff against Haiti, the fifth-place side from the 2016/17 Scotiabank CFU Men’s Caribbean Cup. The path for Belize is by far the more difficult, especially since it must beat first-place Honduras in order to hit the four-point mark. If that does happen, the Belizeans will need a winner to emerge from the El Salvador-Nicaragua encounter and then hope for a favorable scenario as it pertains to goal difference. If Belize loses to Honduras, a draw between El Salvador and Nicaragua will see the Salvadorans stay in fifth. A win by either will commit the other to a pair of games against Haiti.