The CONCACAF Gold Cup is the Confederation of North, Central Americanand Caribbean Association Football's (CONCACAF) biennial championship for national teams. It is contested through a series of qualifying matches that eventually culminate with the CONCACAF Gold Cup finals.

The final round for the next competition in January 1996, which was expanded to nine teams from the traditional eight, includes the United States as host; defending champion Mexico; Canada as a North American Zone qualifier; Trinidad & Tobago and St. Vincent & the Grenadines from the Caribbean; Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador from Central America; plus, World Cup-champion Brazil as a special invited guest from South America.

Inaugurated in 1991, the Gold Cup has been competed for on two occasions. The first took place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A surprising United States captured the first title, defeating Honduras on penalty kicks, before 40,000 fans in Los Angeles.

Two years later, the United States again reached the final, but were thwarted this time by Mexico, 4-0, in front of 130,800 fans at the magnificent Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas was also the site of some opening round matches that year.

The national team of any CONCACAF-affiliated nation is eligible to participate in the tournament. In order to qualify for the final round, a team may, if necessary, be obligated to go through a system of qualification.

In the case of Central America, qualifying for the Gold Cup occurs through the Union of Central American Football (UNCAF) Nations Cup, which also acts as the official Central American championship.

Three of Central America's seven nations advance to the Gold Cup. A preliminary round series between Panama and Nicaragua commenced qualifying for the 1996 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which culminated with the championship round in El Salvador. The top three finishers - Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador - won the right to represent Central America.

Teams from the Caribbean Zone, which is by far the largest in CONCACAF, qualify for the Gold Cup finals through the Shell Caribbean Cup. The Shell Caribbean Cup is an annual competition, which crowns the champion of the Caribbean, and acts as a Gold Cup qualifying tournament in odd-numbered years.

This year, 23 countries battled for the two Caribbean slots. After 46 matches, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Vincent & the Grenadines survived to finish first and second, respectively. They will both try to equal Jamaica's outstanding third place finish at the 1993 Gold Cup.

A qualifying competition has never taken place in the North American Zone. The reason for this is that the North American Zone contains only five nations and has been allotted three Gold Cup spots.

Since, Bermuda and the Bahamas have never entered the Gold Cup, the United States, Mexico and Canada have managed to bypass the qualifying process.

The Gold Cup is undergoing further changes to help enhance its reputation. Instead of its traditional July date in odd-numbered years, it will switch to January in even-numbered years. This will enable CONCACAF's premier championship to establish its own identity and prevent further congestion of an already crowded summer calendar.

Three sites in California, USA - the Los Angeles Coliseum, San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium and Anaheim Stadium - were chosen to host the 1996 competition, which will take place January 10-21.

The main concept behind the development of the Gold Cup was to stimulate increased activity between the national teams of CONCACAF-affiliated members in non-World Cup qualifying years. This way, those participating nations would feel the impetus to maintain their national team program for more than one year out of every four.

It is believed that the Gold Cup will assist in the improvement of national teams through actual match competition and additional training opportunities. As it played more often together, a given national team could eventually compete, with greater confidence and ability, against what was once considered superior opposition.

Another reason for the Gold Cup's evolvement was to maintain interest among fans in their national leagues. Nothing activates the attention of fans more than the success of its national team. When a national team does well, the national league of its country has traditionally been given a lift. It helps to form a stronger bond between the citizens of a country and their favorite sport.

The CONCACAF Gold Cup can do that and more. It provides national teams with meaningful competition and promotes the international aspect of soccer to an ever-expanding audience.

Scott Gleba
CONCACAF Press Officer

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