World Cup 2014: Semifinal Round, Matchday 5 Review

Posted on October 14, 2012 1:44 am

Unlike in the elementary round, when the six survivors were determined with a matchday to spare, none of the teams in position to guarantee their place in the Hexagonal alongside Mexico managed to do so. Panama will feel particularly aggrieved at having wasted the opportunity to win Group C outright, although their World Cup campaign remains in good shape: in front of a completely-packed Estadio Rommel Fernandez, the canaleros appeared overwhelmed by the occasion, creating fewer chances than their Honduran visitors and depending on a couple of key saves from Jaime Penedo to avoid defeat. Nonetheless, only a loss on Tuesday would complicate Panama’s passage to the final round; and with Cuba having completed their 3-0 defeat at Canada without any substitutes, the fatigued and depleted Leones del Caribe are hardly expected to offer much resistance.

The Jamaicans find themselves in a similar position, stuck in a continuing three horse race and finishing their semifinal-round fixtures against the group minnow. Their chances of finishing in the top two were rendered much slimmer, however, by their latest Central American setback.

TEAM OF THE ROUND

Guatemala

Carlos Ruiz is old (for a outfield player). Carlos Ruiz is currently unemployed. But el Pescadito maintained his striker’s instinct, redirecting the ball from a corner kick with a snap header to earn Guatemala’s first-ever victory over Jamaica. For those of you keeping score at home, Ruiz has scored three straight game-winners, leaving his country with the task of earning at least a point in Kansas City to retain hopes of making a debut appearance at the World Cup finals in two years’ time.

The chapines still have work to do, however: they have lost every competitive away match against the United States in their history, and a similar result combined with a three-goal victory for the Reggae Boyz against Antigua and Barbuda will send them back to the familiar drawing board. If their assignment is more difficult than that of Honduras (who must simply beat Canada at home to stay alive), it is exponentially more realistic than that of another neighbor.

GOAT OF THE ROUND

El Salvador

When I picked El Salvador to defy expectations and finish second in Group B, I had one eye on la Selecta’s 2011 form and the other on this exact match, the showdown with Costa Rica at the Estadio Cuscatlan. While the team underwent a change in coaches, with Ruben Israel departing under controversial circumstances and Juan de Dios Castillo struggling to manage the team against Guyana in only his third month in charge, they had already managed to extract points from the ticos at the Estadio Nacional back in June. Their overall record against their fellow Central Americans since 2008 read 2-2-2, a welcome change from the winless streak dating back to 1997. Only a victory in front of a remarkably passionate crowd (even by their own standards) separated Rodolfo Zelaya and co. from the Hex, as straightforward a mission as one could have wished for at this point.

Nonetheless, the cuscatlecos utterly failed to match their fans’ enthusiasm, instead demonstrating a fundamental absence of ideas. Instead of building attacks, or even desperately launching shots at will, the Salvadorans either sent long balls to no one in particular or resorted to passing to Zelaya and watching him dribble around near Costa Rica’s penalty area, practically begging for someone to make contact and offer up dangerous free kicks. The Costa Ricans showed far more poise and composure on the ball, with Bryan Ruiz orchestrating play from the midfield until a crude challenge from Dennis Alas forced him to request a substitution at halftime. By then, the Fulham midfielder had already left his mark, receiving an Alvaro Saborio header and one-timing it back to Jose Miguel Cubero to create the only goal of the match.

Frustration set in for the hosts as play continued, with the equalizer nowhere in sight, and in the dying minutes their temperament boiled over: first, veteran Eliseo Quintanilla jumped for a ball and landed an elbow in the face of a Costa Rican defender on his way down. If referee Mark Geiger had any hesitation about producing a red card for the challenge, then the punch Quintanilla threw out in the ensuing scuffle surely closed the case for expulsion. Alfredo Pachecho joined him soon after for stomping on Cristian Bolanos, as El Salvador resigned themselves to another World Cup disappointment. Official elimination has not yet befallen them; but in our region, Mexico is the last place you go looking for a miracle.

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