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Explaining Concacaf’s Decision To Replace Curaçao In Gold Cup At The Last Minute

Friday evening the day before the 2021 Gold Cup was set to begin, Concacaf sent out a nonchalant email to media with the subject line: “Concacaf Statement — Curaçao Delegation at Gold Cup.” That’s an understated way to announce a team has been expelled from the tournament a day before it was scheduled to play. 

Curaçao is out of the Gold Cup after Covid-19 tests returned a “significant number” of positive results. Guatemala will replace Curaçao, with the opening match of the Gold Cup pushed back a day to Sunday. (Mexico vs. Trindad and Tobago now becomes the tournament opener Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.) 

“Although several Curaçao players returned a negative test result, local state guidelines require several of them to isolate due to being close contacts of those who tested positive,” Concacaf said in a news release. “In light of these circumstances, Concacaf and the Curaçao Football Federation have mutually agreed that Curaçao will not participate in the Gold Cup.

“Concacaf and the Curaçao Football Federation have made every effort to find a solution that would enable Curaçao to compete, however the health and safety of the Curaçao players and staff, and all participants in the tournament, must be prioritized.”

This is a tough blow for Curaçao, which advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2019 Gold Cup, only losing 1-0 to eventual runner-up United States. 

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Guatemala will replace Curaçao in Group A. Curaçao was scheduled to face El Salvador in the tournament curtain-raiser on Saturday afternoon, but now El Salvador will play Guatemala on Sunday. One positive about this change is the kickoff time has been pushed back to 9 p.m. local time, meaning the shadeless Toyota Stadium won’t be quite as sweltering in the Texas summer. 

The reason Guatemala was chosen as the replacement came down to its performance at the preliminary tournament. Concacaf decided to choose the best team from the preliminary round that didn’t qualify. Guatemala beat Guyana 4-0 in the first round before drawing Guadeloupe 1-1 and losing 10-9 in a shootout. That plus-four goal difference equaled that of Bermuda (which beat Barbados 8-1 and lost to Haiti 4-1), but Guatemala went through by virtue of not technically losing a match. (French Guiana also didn’t lose, but also didn’t really win, reaching the second round via a Cuba forfeit and losing a shootout to Trinidad and Tobago 8-7 after a 1-1 draw.) 

“The next highest ranked team from the Gold Cup Preliminary Round (Prelims) is Guatemala,” Concacaf said. “This is based on performance on the field (wins, draws and goal difference) in the Prelims matches played at DRV PNK Stadium in South Florida from July 2 to 6. On this basis and per the Gold Cup regulations, the Concacaf Council has unanimously approved an emergency proposal for Guatemala to replace Curaçao in Group A.” 

This will be a nice boost to Guatemala, which was unable to attend the last two Gold Cups due to FIFA suspension. Guatemala has a little more footballing history than Curaçao, having won the Gold Cup in 1967. Curaçao has never won the Gold Cup, though it did finish third twice in the 1960s. 

Its another disappointing turn of events for the tournament as a whole. On Friday, the tournament’s best player, Bayern Munich and Canada star Alphonso Davies, pulled out with an ankle injury

But all of this is just more reason to watch the crazy, unpredictable, wonderfully bizarre Gold Cup.

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