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
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Gold Cup - Quarterfinals
What a pleasure. Not that I have anything against Guatemala, but when one team goes out to create and the other to destroy, you know who to support. Canada brushed aside the chapines with intelligence, imagination, and flair, and right now they look like champions.
The was never any doubt about this one. Guatemala came out in their bunker 4-5-1, so Canada simply took their time, passed the ball around, and probed for openings. And about the third or fourth time they tried something serious, they scored. In the 17th minute, after a series of passes, Paul Staltieri found Ali Gerba in the area on a diagonal run. Ricardo Trigueño Foster hesitated coming out, and Gerba pivoted to shoot. He shot badly, scuffing it toward the far post, but Dwayne DeRosario beat Claudio Albizuris to the ball and tapped it in.
Guatemala had no answer--they didn't even seem to understand the question. Canada just kept coming; six minutes later a double botched clearance from Henry Medina and Gustavo Cabrera should have meant a second goal, but Julian DeGuzman shot right at Foster, who gave new meaning to the word "face-saving." But it hardly mattered. In the 33rd minute DeRosario sent it to Atiba Hutchinson at the top of the area, whereupon ensued a lovely one-touch combination to DeGuzman to Gerba to the back of the net.
You could have watched it all day. Simple, artistic, irresistible. The third came just before halftime: a backheel from DeRosario, then Ante Jazic to DeGuzman and a shot deflecting off Medina and past Foster. All that was left was avoiding injuries from the slippery pitch and the hard tackles, and to waltz into the semifinals.
Man of the match was Julian DeGuzman, who marshalled the team and was beautiful playing both deep and in attack. But I just want to say that Atiba Hutchinson is one heck of a footballer. (Or, since this is Canada, a soccerer.) He's big, strong, smart, technically sound, covers the whole field, does his job, rarely makes a mistake. Any side in the region would be thrilled to have him.
There isn't much to say about Guatemala. At no time in four games did they look worth the trouble to turn on the TV; worse, they were that way by design. Carlos Ruiz spent more of his time diving than attacking, but to be fair he had no help. Marvin Ávila has some potential on the wing, but he too seemed to be waiting for someone else to join the effort. It may have made sense to put Gustavo Cabrera at left back, since he's got the pace, but neither Medina nor Pablo Melgar was up to the task in the middle. "Bolillo" Gómez is too big a name to get fired early, but he isn't going to make many friends.
As for Canada, the win was so easy that you want to throw up the caution flag. The defense had its best game so far, but it's safe to say they weren't severely tested. Guatemala doesn't have a kitchen sink to throw, even down 0:3. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey will be much tougher. But to be honest, once you get past the centerbacks, this is a team without a weakness. And boy, do they play attractive soccer. I'm a USA supporter, but I won't be at all disappointed if Canada goes all the way. What a pleasure.
If Canada-Guatemala was a waltz, USA-Panama was slam dancing. Panama doesn't play tiddlywinks, and boys will be boys. But despite the many fouls, this was a rousing match--both sides went on the attack whenever possible, produced plenty of chances, and in general made for an entertaining afternoon. The result could have gone either way, and there were legitimate complaints on both sides about ref Neal Brizan, but in the end the USA's 2:1 win was merited.
In fact, the Yanks could have put this one away in the first half, if Landon Donovan and Taylor Twellman had placed their shots right. In only the second minute Donovan slipped inside Carlos Rivera but was stopped by Jaime Penedo, and in the 19th he tried to go wide instead of shooting quickly, with the same result. But at least he was on target. Twellman, a prolific goalscorer in MLS but a jinx with the national team, hit the outside of the post, headed over the bar, knocked it off a teammate, etc. etc; it was just a question of which way he would miss next.
Fortunately for the USA, Blas Pérez was just as wasteful, although he waited until the second half to miss his chances: alone against the keeper, then an unmarked header. You were thinking this might wind up like the 2005 final, 120 scoreless minutes and a shootout. Still, it was fun, not least if you were trying to figure out why Frankie Hejduk was starting an important game. Or you could watch the yellow cards pile up--the most amusing came when Oguchi Onyewu, who is the size of Hoover Dam, went down after a modest push from Felipe Baloy. But just before the hour Clint Dempsey, bucking for the all-tournament team, lifted a gorgeous ball to Donovan ghosting behind Rivera, who brought him down from behind for the clear PK. (He should also have been sent off, but then later on Onyewu should have drawn a penalty for dragging down Pérez.) Donovan converted with ease, and two minutes later Carlos Bocanegra headed in a free kick from DaMarcus Beasley.
That figured to be that, especially when Victor Herrera was sent off for a second yellow. But the USA defense has been something less than stellar this tournament, and Pérez finally found the target in the 84th minute after a mixup between Onyewu, Hejduk, and sub Steve Ralston. In fact, Pérez shot so hard the ball bounced right back out of the net. But there were no more good chances (although quite a few good fouls), and in the end the Yanks survived.
Although Panama weren't the most fluid team around, we're sorry to see them go. With Alexandre Guimaraes in charge, they seem to have inherited the attacking verve that Costa Rica lost the last few years. Blas Pérez didn't exactly earn his "San Blas" moniker; saints don't miss that many chances. The other Pérez, Juan, actually impressed a bit more as defensive midfielder. The back line remains weak: Baloy is a bit too inconsistent to be a genuine star, and the rest of the group, with the possible exception of Roman Torres, are no more than ordinary. But there's plenty of punch in the side, and they might turn out to be this cycle's version of 2005 Guatemala: scoring lots, giving up lots, playing exciting and very unpredictable football.
The USA march on, and against Canada will be glad to face a finesse team for once. But they're going to have to be more precise in the back if they want to make it to the final. I'm guessing the key matchup will come at right back, with (probably) Jonathan Spector facing Dwayne DeRosario. Spector had a good game last time out, but DeRosario is in form and can make inexperienced defenders look very foolish. At the other end Landon Donovan should put lots of pressure on Ante Jazic, and if the Yanks can find a finisher they should score at least once against Canada's shaky central defense. Everything points to a great game--cross your fingers!
As we said last time, the refereeing has been better than usual--not that that's saying much. We've had our share of blown calls, of course. But it took until the 21st game of the tournament to get our first truly shameful decision. The criminal was Terry Vaughn of the USA, and the victim was Allan Alemán of Costa Rica, and by extension the whole tico team, not to mention their fans. It was the 42nd minute, 0:0, and Vaughn's calls had already been leaning a bit toward Mexico. This is endemic in the Gold Cup, which, as we've noted, is constructed so as to favor the Big Two. You know you're not going to get the breaks if your opponent is wearing green.
Anyway, Álvaro Saborio had the ball and was knocked down by Jonny Magallón. Clear foul, and Vaughan whistled it correctly. But Alemán, who himself had already been carded, thought the foul deserved a yellow, and ran toward Vaughn, waving his right hand in the universal "give 'em a card, ref!" signal. And Vaughn obliged--he gave the card to Alemán, for dissent. Now, it's true Alemán was off the camera for a few seconds, so he might have made an obscene gesture or insulted Vaughn's mother or something. But no one made any such claim after the match. It looked like he simply got over-excited, perhaps frustrated that the calls hadn't been going CR's way. In a tough quarterfinal, with tempers a bit edgy anyway, you don't give a man a yellow for that.You just don't. And if it had been Carlos Salcido or Jared Borgetti or any other member of the Tri, Vaughan wouldn't have. Even the Mexican press thought the call was ridiculous.
But it stood, and Costa Rica were sunk. True, they were playing without the suspended Walter Centeno anyway, and had given no sign they were going to score. But on a wet, scrappy pitch, Mexico had done little more. Costa Rica could potentially have held out for 120 minutes, and with a fluke goal or a set piece, who knows what might have happened?
In fact, it almost happened anyway. 11 on 10, Mexico remained thoroughly unconvincing, and when they got close, José Francisco Porras, the keeper of the tournament, denied them every time. 60, 70, 80 minutes. And in the 89th came the near miracle, when Costa Rica's Gabriel Badilla headed a free kick toward goal--and off the crossbar.
At the time it looked like Mexico could play 240 minutes without scoring. Even Cuauhtémoc Blanco (originally reported as suspended, but apparently not), who came on as a sub in the 76th minute, wasn't helping. But eventually you run out of gas. In the 97th minute, a second sub, Adolfo "El Bofo" Bautista, lifted a tidy cross from the right, and Borgetti, unmarked, headed in.
Later on Vaughn added insult to injury by red-carding Saborio on an obvious dive by "Maza" Rodríguez. (At the end he even red-carded a third man, but that was justified.) People do make mistakes. But Vaughn was over the line most of the evening, and I haven't even mentioned his most outrageous moment. In the second half Ricardo Osorio and Randall Azofeifa got into a mild shoving match, and Vaughn decided to book them both. He flashed the yellow at Azofeifa, then dramatically flashed him the red--except Azofeifa hadn't been carded before. Vaughn eventually figured out his mistake, but he shouldn't have been showboating anyway. And naturally it increased Costa Rica's suspicions.
Ultimately the better team, if only by default, won the match. Costa Rica were uninspired from the opening whistle of the tournament. As for Mexico, it's tough to know what to make of them. Last time we discussed their midfield problems; the defense hasn't looked that good either. Hugo is a 4-4-2 man, which is fine, but most Mexican clubs play a 3-man back line, which is the way LaVolpe went. Magallón and Rodríguez in the center make an unconvincing pair; Saborio gave them fits playing as a lone ranger a man down. Report is that Rafa Márquez will come over from Spain for the semifinal, but he's got to be tired from the grueling title race with Barcelona. It's hard to imagine Mexico losing to Guadeloupe, but then it's been hard to imagine them so uninspired.
All week the story was Samuel Caballero--would he be able to play in the semifinal or would have have to go home to his club in China? As it turned out, he went home, and so did the rest of the team, dispatched in a 1:2 shocker by Guadeloupe. In a way it was no surprise; Honduras are famous for failing to meet expectations. But surely this side, who had won so heroically against Mexico, would beat a team that doesn't even qualify to offer bribes to FIFA.
But don't sell Guadeloupe short. They're an average team, but they play within themselves and have the knack of getting goals. Against Canada they didn't have a really good chance all night, and scored twice. And against Honduras they had only two chances, and notched them both. The first came in the 17th minute, when right back Michael Tacalfred launched a long looping cross to the far post. Richard Socrier, significantly taller than Oscar Garcia and in better position, headed back across the area. Caballero stuck out his leg and missed; Jocelyn Angloma stuck out his leg and didn't. The second came only four minutes later, on a truly stunning cross from the right touchline by Loic Laval, headed home by Socrier, only a couple of inches behind Caballero. Wham, bam, thank you Sam.
Honduras had plenty of time to come back, but picked the wrong night to be off balance. Undoubtedly they were looking ahead to Mexico, but the strikers, Carlos Pavón and Carlo Costly, reverted to their early mediocre form. Pavón eventually got the Honduran goal in the 71st minute, but missed several other chances; Costly was robbed by Franck Grandel near the end of the first half, but was nowhere the rest of the evening and eventually went to the bench. In the middle "Rambo" Leon was so ineffective he was replaced at halftime, and Amado Guevara was intermittent.
In the end Guadeloupe were worth their victory. Grandel saved the bacon a couple of times, and Honduras had most of the play, particularly in the second half, but the islanders never bunkered. They counterpunched effectively, stayed calm, played controlled football. In large measure that was due to Stéphane Auvray, who has been one of the revelations of the tournament. He's a deep-lying midfielder, not really a playmaker, but not a D-mid either. He holds the ball, maintains the tempo, settles the team: a French-speaking Claudio Reyna. He plays for Vannes, a third-division club that had a great run to the quarterfinals in this year's Coupe de France. This man is not a third-division player, folks.
Do Guadeloupe have a chance against Mexico? Not if Terry Vaughn is the ref. (I'm cruel, but fair.) And probably not if anyone else is either. Upsets like that just don't happen. Guadeloupe have never been in this kind of situation, and have never played Mexico before. But then again, they'd never played Canada or Honduras before. Maybe they don't know they're supposed to lose. And maybe they can take revenge for one of the most famous Gold Cup games of all time, July 11, 1993, when their sister island Martinique fell to Mexico 9:0 on seven goals by Luís Roberto Alves "Zague". Allez les Rouge-Vert-Jaunes!
[Just a note: so far I've been covering the games as they happen, but I actually do have a life, which means I won't be able to report directly on Thursday's semifinals. I'll be back after the Final with a full report and tournament summary.]
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