Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Gold Cup - Group Stage Update 2

Group C

    It's hard to conceive of a Group of Death in the Gold Cup, but somehow the committee managed it, putting Panama and Honduras, the two toughest non-seeded teams, in the same group with Mexico. Usually such groups are a waste of everyone's time, with the sides playing cautious football and the whole much less than the sum of the parts. But leave it to CONCACAF to upend expectations--Group C opened with two crackerjack games, delighting the Giants' Stadium fans with 8 goals and plenty of exciting play.

    The opener was Panama-Honduras, a real Central American dogfight in which nothing quite turned out as expected. Honduras took the early initiative, getting strong work from Edgar Alvarez up the right flank, and forcing a tremendous save from 2005 MVP Jaime Penedo when Carlos Pavón blasted from long range. Panama were playing rough, both technically and physically, and as a result were on the back foot all the way. But in the 24th minute, just when it seemed the catrachos were ready to take complete control, disaster: midfielder Wilson Palacios crashed into Carlos Rivera from behind. The studs were down, but the knee was up, and although referee Mauricio Navarro might have chosen yellow, he went straight red, and you couldn't really argue.

    And the worm turned. Alexandre Guimaraes went for the jugular, throwing on Ricardo Philips for Amilcar Henríquez, and was rewarded in the 33rd minute when Rivera's hard shot went right through the hands of Orlin Vallecillo (to give him his due, he might have been screened). Certainly now it was Panama's game.

    Try again. Seven minutes later Pavón drew a somewhat dubious foul from Felipe Baloy in the media luna, and Amado "El Lobo" Guevara rifled the free kick past a bewildered Penedo for the equalizer. Honduras with the momentum, right? Nope. Only two minutes later striker Blas "San Blas" Pérez, who had been tearing up the Copa Libertadores for Cúcuta in Colombia (and who I stupidly forgot to mention in the preview), did his specialty: a spawning-salmon leap to head in a cross from Ramón Torres.

    At halftime everyone caught their breath--in Panama's case, too much. One goal and one man up, they inexplicably decided to play it safe and let Honduras chase the game. Honduras said thank you very much and took control, with some exceptional play from Alvarez and Guevara. But if Honduras have a weakness, it's depth up front, where if David Suazo can't play (which is most of the time) there just isn't enough talent. Emil Martínez, an attacking midfielder, kept trying to do it all himself, and kept failing. In the 80th minute he finally figured out that it's better to give than receive, and a one-two with Guevara forced yet another spectacular save from Penedo. But that was it. Two minutes later a beautiful curving shot from sub José Luís "El Pistolero" Garcés put Panama up 3:1, and Carlos Costly's injury time goal was scant consolation.

    You can't really say Panama deserved to win. They had control for only a small part of the game; Pérez was invisible except for the header; Penedo was partially at fault on both Honduran goals. They were by far the more physical team, and were plenty lucky that all five of their cards were yellows while Honduras got the one red. But Guimaraes gets results, and he has the boys playing with a certain swagger, as if they expect to finish on top. This game was just more evidence that the canaleros have arrived.

    You'd have bet the farm that Mexico-Cuba would be a letdown, and you'd have lost. Hugo Sánchez took a look at the schedule and decided to rest several starters; Raul González of Cuba gladdened the hearts of football fans everywhere by starting a straight 4-4-2, no bunker. Mexico naturally went on the attack, but (say it very quietly) like the LaVolpe days, they had plenty of possession and no chances. Adolfo "El Bofo" Bautista, at the point of the midfield diamond, didn't see the ball enough, and didn't do much when he got it. Fernando Arce was effective on the right, and newcomer striker Nery Castillo looked quick and technical, but 21 minutes in and the score was still 0:0.

    And 22 minutes in it was 1:0 to Cuba. Leonel Duarte, the pick of the attackers, released midfielder Osvaldo Alonso on a brisk counterattack, and when the ball came to striker Reynier Alcántara, he hesitated, got the ball on his right foot, and curled a beauty from the top of the area past Guillermo Ochoa.

    Nor was this a fluke. Cuba showed themselves to be skilful and intelligent, and although Mexico had more possession, they were a full partner in the action. They kept their shape, moved the ball around, looked for counters. It was open, pleasing football. Duarte and Alonso were particularly impressive, and it certainly looked like the side could keep it up all night.

    Alas, they call them "upsets" for a reason. In the 38th minute Mexico equalized on the simplest of goals, Bautista's free kick finding an unmarked Jared Borgetti for the gimme header. In the 58th they got the winner when keeper Odelin Molina fumbled Kikín Fonseca's shot and Castillo got the tap-in. Two breakdowns, really the only things Cuba did wrong all game, and two goals. For Mexico, it was at best a workmanlike effort--Hugo followed Rule One of coaching and blamed the pitch. But the Gold Cup is a real forced march of a tournament, especially if you expect to get to the Final, and they have nothing to be ashamed of. Against Honduras I suspect we'll see Carlos Salcido, Ricardo Osorio, and Cuauhtémoc Blanco, all of whom sat for the opener (by the time you read this, we'll know).

Group B

    Play resumed in the Group of Blech with Guatemala-El Salvador, a non-marquee matchup if there ever was one. Remember those heady days of 2004-5, when Guatemala were possibly the most exciting team in the world? High scores, fabulous goals on both sides, complete unpredictabilty? Now they're like any other team, only less so. "Bolillo" Gomez has them playing ugly, conservative football (a 4-5-1 against El Salvador!), just the sort of thing that sends you out to mow the lawn. El Salvador were game but not particularly tidy--you know you're in trouble when your two highlights are: 1) your keeper making an incredible double save after two of your defenders collide; 2) one of those same defenders accidentally knocking the same keeper cold with an elbow. Alexander Escobar was the culprit, and it's safe to say Juan José Gómez won't be sending him a birthday card any time soon.

    Not that it made much difference. The game was mostly hard tackles and erratic passes. Carlos Figueroa was useful for Guatemala on the right, and Dennis Alas was man of the match doing the dirty work for El Salvador in the middle. Any goal was going to be a fluke, and a fluke indeed it was: in the 69th minute El Salvador defender José Henríquez tried a completely unnecessary acrobatic clearance, kicked it straight up in the air, sub Dwight Pezzarossi headed over to the top of the box, whereupon José Contreras drove a gorgeous volley (where the heck did that come from?) past sub keeper Dagoberto Portillo. I don't think Gómez could have stopped it, and anyway it was nice to see the ball in the net for once. El Salvador never seriously threatened, and Contreras nearly made it a brace with a free kick off the post a few minutes later.

    The Guatemala win pretty much puts them in the quarterfinals, since they have T&T up next while El Salvador get the USA. I'm glad for the chapines fans, who have suffered Gold Cup misery long enough, but it's hard to get enthusiastic about the squad. Carlos Ruiz isn't getting the ball enough, and for some reason Bolillo doesn't see fit to give him a true strike partner. If he starts Dwight Pezzarossi alongside, and adds Marvin Ávila and Figueroa in the midfield, he's got something. But I'm not holding my breath.

    I can't tell you about USA-T&T, because my electricity went out for almost exactly the two hours it took to play the game. (Although at my advanced age even I find it hard to watch four games in a day.) When the lights went on, it was 2:0 to the USA with only a few minutes to go, which sort of figured. But by all accounts it was another ordinary performance from the Yanks, with good chances and bad finishing. They can just be thankful they didn't get stuck with Panama, Honduras, and Cuba. For T&T, it was another education. But Guatemala are hardly world-beaters, and if the Soca Scrubs put in top effort they might yet snatch a point. Just make sure you've paid your electric bill.

Group A

    I can't imagine what it's like to be a Canada supporter. Well, actually I can; it's like being a USA supporter 25 years ago. Only worse. In those days you never really expected the Yanks to amount to anything. But Canada always seem to have potential, and always seem to run into the worst luck possible. Last WCQ they were gutted by bogus refereeing against Honduras (twice!) Now in the Gold Cup they bring out their most exciting team in ages, play great football, upset Costa Rica in style, then manage to lose to Guadeloupe 1:2 on two of the more ridiculous goals you'll ever see.

    Oh, and despite dominating the game as well. In fact, Canada looked just as good against Guadeloupe as they had against Costa Rica, rotating the ball, pushing upfield, technically sound, tactically imaginative. All night Dewayne DeRosario dazzled on the left of attack, and Atiba Huchinson was everywhere. Guadeloupe had no chances, no possession, no nothing. So in the 10th minute Michael Tacalfred of Guadeloupe hoofs one down the field, and Richard Hastings makes a routine clearance in central defense. But behind him keeper Greg Sutton has misjudged the ball and come off his line. And senior citizen Jocelyn Angloma takes a whack at the ball from about 25 meters out on the right, and it flies over Sutton and into the net.

    OK, no problem, maple leafers, get back in your rhythm. And once more Canada took control. In the 35th minute came the inevitable equalizer: a flip from Patrice Bernier into the area for an unmarked Ali Gerba, who chest-trapped, let it bounce, and slammed it home with ease. So of course only two minutes later Guadeloupe were on top again. You couldn't even call it a chance--David Fleurival just decided to cut loose and sent a thunderous 30-meter drive into the corner. I bet he could try that 50 times and never repeat it.

    There was still almost an hour to go, and Canada still rolling -- terre de nos aïeux, the true north strong and free, all that. But they just couldn't get it in the net. Paul Staltieri missed two gilt-edged chances, a couple of hard drives went just wide, and when the game ended the scoreboard still read 1:2. Hard to believe--although I suppose Canada supporters are used to it. But it was yet another fine show from the lads, and let's hope the football gods get them into the quarterfinals somehow. It'd be an absolute crime otherwise.

    For an hour Costa Rica-Haiti was an odd sort of game: decent, but with both teams just a little off stride. With the defense a tiny bit sharper than the attack, and keepers José Francisco Porras and Gabart Fenelon both in fine form, it stayed 0:0, with every possibility it would end that way. Then suddenly, neatly, chances became goals. In the 62nd minute Álvaro Saborio laid it off at the top of the arc, and Walter Centeno drove it low past Fenelon's dive. In the 71st minute a super combination between Romulus Turlien and Gilles Frantz set up Alexandre Boucicault in the area, and he blasted it past a helpless Porras. At which point the game went back to the way it had been, and we finished 1:1.

    It was a fair result, and certainly one to make the Miami fans happy. Haiti have their share of talent--Boucicault and Fucien Brunel really take the eye, and Jean-Jacques Pierre has been one of the best defenders on show. They play entertaining football, if a bit raw at times. You want to see them advance, if only for the novelty value, but who in the group can you leave out?

    Costa Rica have been a bit of a disappointment so far. Hernán Medford made the right move by adding Randall Azofeifa to the midfield (although he sent Michael Barrantes forward and kept Azofeifa back), and also wisely dropped Harold Wallace for Andres Nuñez. Still, although they played better than against Canada, something was missing, that indefinable surge. Over the years Costa Rica have dominated Central America, but mostly disappointed at the Gold Cup (although they made the final in 2002). Maybe it's just the venue--the ticos have always seemed a bit uncomfortable playing in the USA. Now they have to beat Guadeloupe if they want to stick around. Under normal circumstances it'd be a lock, but these aren't normal circumstances--or maybe they are. Just ask Canada.



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