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In the Box: Gold Cup

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When CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football) announced that Houston and Reliant Stadium would host Gold Cup games in July another bit of Houston soccer history was achieved.

In 20 short months international soccer has made remarkable strides at Reliant Stadium.

Reliant Stadium has seen National teams like the United States (both men's and women's), Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Top club teams like Everton from England as well as historic Mexican teams like Chivas, Club America, Toluca, and Tigres have graced the playing surface of Reliant.

So what can we expect from the Gold Cup?

Well, first let's define what the Gold Cup is.

The Gold Cup is a 12-team tournament comprised of national teams from the CONCACAF Region plus two invitees.

The Gold Cup championship determines the top national team in our region of the world and could be likened to the European Championships or the Copa America in South America.

Only a few teams currently are assured of being involved in the tournament.

From the North Zone come three automatic qualifiers in the United States, Mexico, and Canada while World Cup 2010 hosts South Africa are one of the invitees with the other expected to be announced in the near future.

In fact Argentina has been rumored to be the other invitee!

Three teams are still yet to be determined out of the Caribbean Zone in a qualifying tournament called the Digicel Cup to be held in Barbados on February 20-24. The three teams will come from the following countries: Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Meanwhile in Central America the UNCAF tournament from February 19-27 will determine the four teams that will represent Central America in the Gold Cup.

Teams vying for the four spots include Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama.

Once these tournaments are concluded three groups of four teams will be made comprising the Gold Cup, which will then take place in the U.S. with 25 games played from July 6 to July 24 in Miami, Foxboro, Seattle, East Rutherford, Los Angeles and Houston.

Top teams from each group along with the two best third place teams move on to the quarterfinals which will be held in Gillete Stadium (Foxboro) July 16, Reliant Stadium July 17 while Giants Stadium (East Rutherford , New Jersey) will host the semifinals on July 21 and the Final on July 24.

National team coaches will be looking to win the prestigious tournament to stake the claim to be the number one team in our region of the world.

For fans this will be an opportunity to see numerous squads that will be competing in World Cup qualifying and eventually the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The pride of nations will be on display both on the field and in the crowds. In essence it is like a mini-World Cup in our part of the world.

Since the Gold Cup began in 1991 Mexico has won the title four times (1993, 1996, 1998, 2003) and are the defending champions followed by the U.S. with two titles (1991, 2002) and one by Canada in 2002.

Only teams from the Notrth Zone have been able to say they were Gold Cup Champions.

The United States National team has had some of its most historic games during the Gold Cup.

Who could forget 1991 when the U.S. beat Mexico in the knockout stages and eventually won the final on penalties over Honduras?

The win over Mexico under then head coach Bora Milutinovic was a heated affair which can be looked upon as the time in U.S. Men's National Team history that the United States became competitive with Mexico.

One also can forget the shot heard around the world when in 1998 the United States scored a stunning 1-0 victory over Brazil in Los Angeles with Preki striking one of the most memorable goals in U.S. Soccer history.

The game also mark one of the most amazing performances ever from a U.S. goalkeeper when Kasey Keller pulled off save after remarkable save denying Brazil.

At the time Brazilian striker Romario called it the greatest goalkeeping exhibition he had ever seen.

As for defending Champion Mexico they knocked off Brazil in the last Gold Cup Final in 2003 and are perennial favorites.

Upsets always occur in the Gold Cup and one only need to take a look back to Canada in 2000 when against all odds under head coach Holger Osieck they dispatched Mexico in the semifinals on a "golden goal" and then with a true counter attacking style defeated invitees Colombia in the final 2-0 to secure one of the greatest accomplishments in Canadien Soccer history.

There is no doubt more history will be made this summer in the Gold Cup.

Chances are we will see the U.S. or Mexican teams in Houston for the July 13 (Group C, first-round matches) or the July 17 quarterfinals.

Who knows, we may see both!

Davis is a nationally recognized broadcaster for HDNET where he partners up with former U.S. National Team defender Marcelo Balboa. He was one of the lead voices for ESPN during the 2002 World Cup and has called major international soccer matches for the Fox Network as well.  He is a weekly columnist for the Houston Chronicle and hosts the "Soccer Hour with Glenn Davis" radio show on 90.1KPFT FM Radio every Sunday from 5-6 pm.  Davis played soccer professionally for the Houston Dynamos where he was a league all star selection and team captain.

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