The World Cup preliminary draw wasn’t supposed to be particularly interesting. CONCACAF, as a confederation, just doesn’t have that much depth or intrigue. Plus this is the semifinal round anyway, so most of the best teams get split up, making things boring.
Then the draw stacked Group B and everything got crazy.
Costa Rica, Panama (likely), Jamaica and Haiti (likely) were all drawn into Group B. Jamaica and Haiti still have to win their third round ties to advance to the next round and land in Group B, but considering their opponents are Nicaragua and Grenada, that shouldn’t be problematic. And then it sets up the group from hell.
Group B will feature a seeded team which went to the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup, two teams from the last Hex cycle and a Haiti team that made it out of its Gold Cup group. It’s almost as tough a group as possible in the confederation, one akin to the competition usually found in the final round of qualifying.
Had the draw dispersed teams evenly, most people would have picked Costa Rica, Panama and Jamaica to all make the Hex. Haiti would even have an outside chance of getting in. Now that’s out the window.
Two of these teams won’t even have a chance to play for a spot in the World Cup. Instead, the likes of Bryan Ruiz, Celso Borges, Blas Perez, Luis Tejada, Giles Barnes, Darren Mattocks and Duckens Nazon will meet in the semifinal round. They’ll turn the group into a hellhole from which two teams will need a great deal of mettle and luck to survive. The difference may end up being the home fields of Costa Rica and Panama, both of which generally have intimidating crowds and difficult places to play, whereas Jamaica and Haiti won’t have that same advantage.
For comparison’s sake, Group C will get one of Aruba and St. Vincent and Grenadines, as well as Guatemala. Group A will likely end up with El Salvador and Canada. Haiti, the worst team in Group B, may be better than the third best teams in both Group A and C. Hell, in the Gold Cup Haiti was better than Honduras, the second-best team in Group A.
Suffice to say, Group B is a monster. Somehow, some way, the preliminary draw got interesting for CONCACAF, arguably for the first time ever. It’s a miracle. Or, if you’re in Group B, a nightmare.