World Cup 2014: Semifinal Round, Matchday 3 Review

Posted on September 8, 2012 3:51 pm

Perhaps reports of the Caribbean footballing demise have been somewhat exaggerated.

Cuba did continue to fulfill the whipping boy role in Group C, this time by succumbing to a new-look Honduran attack featuring Jerry Bengtson and Georgie Welcome (although I remain unconvinced of their effectiveness against a higher-quality defense). Antigua and Barbuda, however, served notice to Guatemala of their competitiveness by taking a 1-0 lead into the break, courtesy of an expertly-taken breakaway goal from Peter Byers rendered even more impressive by the horrendous condition of the drenched field. The Benna Boys were eventually overtaken through a Carlos Ruiz-inspired comeback and a second yellow to goalie Molvin James; Guyana did one better by holding on for a 2-2 draw in El Salvador, thanks to a brace from Treyon Bobb.

Of course, Jamaica hit the highest note of the evening by earning their first-ever victory over the United States, with one deflected free kick in the first half followed by another than can only be accurately described as world-class. After Clint Dempsey had put the visitors ahead in the first minute, the Jamaicans settled into the game, frustrated the US’s forays into the opposing half through persistently physical defending and goaded the midfield trio of Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu into fouling them close to goal. Luton Shelton gave Tim Howard no chance with the game winner, curling his shot away from the US keeper and off the post before going in. But while the Reggae Boyz were generally expected to contend for a spot in the Hexagonal, another side served notice of their intention to break with previous disappointments and return to the Final Round.



Where was this team in the last Gold Cup?

I remember not feeling particularly threatened by them in their tournament opener against the United States; and the only reason I watched their soporific outing against Guadeloupe in its entirely was because I was at the stadium. The incarnation that took the field against Panama bore almost no resemblance whatsoever, as the likes of Dwayne de Rosario, Atiba Hutchinson, Will Johnson, Olivier Occean and Simeon Jackson charged forward against Panama at every opportunity. The canaleros found a couple of chances as well in the second half, and a draw would have been a fair result; but Hutchinson got revenge on Panama for the last-minute goal that knocked Canada out of the continental championship through the sort of cheeky play that Samuel Eto’o had in mind when he emphasized the importance of speed of thought.

After Jackson got fouled just outside the penalty area, the ball remained still. At this point, the Canadians were within their rights to play it as soon as they wished, unless they proactively were to demand that the ref guarantee the 10-yard distance from the defensive wall; and while the Panamanian defenders wandered around aimlessly, waiting for directions from Jaime Penedo, Hutchinson crossed the ball to DeRo for a tap-in. If (I repeat, if) Canada manage to reach the World Cup finals in two years’ time, that goal may well go down as the most important sequence in Canadian soccer history; for the time being, it temporarily settles the Great White North on top of Group C, although a difficult return leg in Panama City could drag them back into the three-team race for survival.

While no favors were extended to them in Havana, with Honduras closing the gap with their opponents to three points, Mexico opened up the opportunity for the other occupants of Group B to catch up with Costa Rica by defeating the ticos in San Jose, yet again.


El Salvador

And yet, the cuscatlecos failed to take advantage of Mexico’s benevolence, settling for a surprising draw at home to a team with little recent experience outside of the Caribbean. One wonders if new coach Juan de Dios Castillo, hired in the three-month break since Matchday 2, simply did not have enough time to work with the Salvadoran defense, but twice they allowed Bobb to run in behind them, twice Gregory Richardson found him with through balls and twice Bobb capitalized on his chances to cancel out the hosts’ go-ahead goals. El Salvador can still finish the month above their fellow Central Americans with a win in Georgetown, combined with a almost-guaranteed Mexican victory at the Estadio Azteca. But based on yesterday’s result, one that revives Guyana’s World Cup aspirations, who would bet against the Golden Jaguars on Tuesday?

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