With the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup launch four days away, CONCACAF.com is taking a closer look at one of the 12 participants each day until July 7, when the competition kicks off at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Today, we feature Nicaragua.
Head Coach: Henry Duarte (Costa Rica)
Qualification Method: defeated Haiti in Gold Cup qualifying playoff (agg: 4-3)
Previous Appearances: 1 (2009)
Best Finish: never advanced past group stage
Record: 0W 0D 3L 0GF 8GA
Current GC All-Time Ranking: 22 out of 24
Biggest Win: n/a
All-Time Leading GC Scorer: n/a
With Haiti needing only to avoid a two-goal loss against host Nicaragua in the second leg of their qualifying playoff to secure a berth in the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Juan Barrera happened. The 28-year-old attacker scored three goals in the last eight minutes as the Nicaraguans earned a stunning 3-0 win over the Caribbean power and progressed via a 4-3 aggregate triumph.
Such success has been a rare treat for Nicaraguan football fans, but since Henry Duarte’s arrival as head coach in December 2014, the Pinoleros have demonstrated clear improvement.
In order to reach the playoff series against Haiti, Nicaragua finished fifth in the 2017 Copa Centroamericana standings with a 1W-1D-3L record. It opened with a pair of narrow losses to eventual-champion Honduras (1-2) and host Panama (1-2), before a momentous draw with two-time defending champion Costa Rica (0-0). A 3-1 win over Belize followed thanks to goals by Barrera (30'), Daniel Cadena (84'), Bryan Garcia (90'), setting up a decisive last encounter against El Salvador. Nicaragua would have locked up direct passage to the Gold Cup with a draw, only for the Salvadorans to prevail, 1-0.
Under Duarte’s leadership, the Nicaraguans nearly pulled off the surprise of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. After getting past Anguilla in the first round (agg: 8-0) and Suriname in the second round (agg: 4-1), a drama-filled series with 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup runner-up Jamaica ensued. Nicaragua posted a 3-2 historic road win in the opener, gaining the ability to advance automatically with a win, draw or even a 1-0 loss in the second leg. Down 1-0 with the clock elapsing, Nicaragua appeared on course to progress, when Simon Dawkins’ 89th-minute goal gave the Reggae Boyz a 2-0 win.
If Nicaragua is to better a 0-0-3 record from its only Gold Cup appearance in 2009, Barrera – who entered as a substitute three times in that competition -- will be counted on to produce once again. In 2015, he became the first Nicaraguan to play in Europe, making two appearances in both the domestic league and the UEFA Europa League for Austria’s Rheindorf Altach.
Forwards Raul Leguias (35) and Carlos Chavarria (23) were Nicaragua’s joint-top scorers in 2018 World Cup Qualifying on three goals each, while winger Bryan Garcia (22) netted a team-high two goals in the Copa Centroamericana. Leguias is not on the Gold Cup roster.