CONCACAF 2015 U-20 Championship: Group B Rounds 4 & 5 round-up
The final rounds of the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship’s Group B brought a few surprises. Austin Fido recaps…
Group B’s denouement was not quite as dramatic as that of Group A, but we got some surprises, some of the better goals of the tournament so far, and the schedule for the final round of the competition.
On January 24, Mexico will take on Panama in the Championship final; both teams are already qualified for the U-20 World in New Zealand, courtesy of winning their respective groups.
Before the Championship game, we will see Guatemala face Honduras and El Salvador take on the USA to decide CONCACAF’s remaining representatives in New Zealand.
But enough looking ahead; this post is about looking back at rounds 4 and 5 of Group B.
Group B: Round 4
Perhaps the shock result of the tournament. Cuba had conceded 14 goals in its first three games, and had one point to show for its efforts. Canada was expected to bounce back from its third-round slip against El Salvador and put itself back in position to get out of the group.
Frank Lopez, Cuba’s top scorer in qualifying, had other ideas.
Lopez scored again before the first half finished, and though Canada came out looking much sharper in the second half – and got a goal back – it ran into ‘keeper Elier Pozo in a mood to show his team what it had missed when he was forced out of Cuba’s game against Honduras by injury.
Pozo saved the day, Cuba’s win eliminated Canada (unable to find a way past either El Salvador or Cuba on tiebreakers regardless of the outcome of any of the final round games), and gave the erstwhile presumptive bottom-placed team in Group B an unlikely shot at making the next round.
A win over El Salvador in the final round of Group B would put Cuba into contention for a place at the U-20 World Cup.
If you’ve been following El Salvador in this tournament, you will have noticed a pattern:
– vs. Honduras: 90th minute equalizer scored by Jose Villavicencio
– vs. Haiti: 89th minute equalizer conceded to Jonel Desire
– vs. Canada: Stoppage-time winner scored by Romilio Hernandez
You have to keep watching ’til the end with El Salvador. It was the same in this match: Nelson Moreno got a goal in the 88th minute.
Unfortunately for the Salvadorans, this time around it had no impact on the result. Mexico scored three times between the 62nd and 68th minutes, including the obligatory goal from Hirving Lozano (who converted a penalty he won himself). Jose Ramirez scored the pick of the bunch.
The win confirmed Mexico’s place in the Championship final (where El Tri will face Panama). El Salvador meanwhile moved on to face Cuba in what was now a playoff for the final spot in the knockout round.
Haiti did its damnedest to follow the example set by Caribbean rivals Cuba and keeps itself in the hunt for World Cup qualification until at least the formal end of the group stage.
Les Grenadiers were down two goals before the 40th minute, but got back into the match thanks to a surprising moment of defensive complacency from Honduras.
Jonel Desire followed that with a penalty in the 69th minute, and Haiti had a chance again (of not being eliminated from consideration for the knockout round).
But the hope was short-lived. Honduras had looked the better team until it fell asleep, and Haiti’s goals revived Los Catrachos sufficiently for Bryan Rochez to convert a penalty in the 72nd minute (curiously, both penalties in this match were saved, with the goal following from the rebound).
The win secured Honduras’s place in the next round, and Haiti were looking at nothing to play for but pride in its group stage finale against Mexico.
Group B: Round 5
The only match in the final round in which both teams had something meaningful to play for, and a goalless first-half did nothing to ease the tension. A win would have sent Cuba through, meaning El Salvador’s nerves very much needed a goal.
Juan Barahona put his team at ease with a long-range belter in the 57th minute.
And then popped up in the 87th minute to tap in El Salvador’s customary late goal.
Cuba heads home; El Salvador moves on to a World Cup qualification playoff with the USA on January 24.
Fortuitously, the combination of two talented but fragile teams translated into an entertaining game. Canada took an early lead, lost it four minutes later, then found another goal to head in for half-time up 2-1.
The Canadians spurned a few chances to make their lead more convincing, and ultimately those misses cost them the match. Honduras equalized in the 68th minute, and Bryan Rochez delivered a quite exceptional winner in the 83rd.
Los Catrachos‘ win earns them a match-up with Guatemala in the next round; the winner will get to summer in New Zealand.
For Canada, the tournament has been a disappointment: four losses from five games is not at all what was expected from this team. The fact three of those losses were by a single goal does speak to the fact the team was competitive, but Canada hasn’t won more than one game at this tournament since 2005 – which simply isn’t good enough for a national team program that habitually is permitted automatic qualification to CONCACAF’s big events.
Mexico’s attitude to this game was telegraphed by its starting lineup: no Lozano, Jesse Gonzalez, Erick Gutierrez, Jose Ramirez, or Alejandro Diaz. Regular starters were rested, as El Tri conserved energy for the Championship final.
All was going to plan when Mauro Lainez delivered Mexico’s opening goal in the 38th minute. Haiti, however, had its own plan: regain some pride. Nerlin Saint-Vil achieved that in the 54th minute with one of the goals of the tournament.
The 1-1 scoreline held up and Les Grenadiers stand a good chance of being the only team in this edition not to lose to Mexico. The return of the starters and winning ways will be expected when El Tri takes on Panama on January 24.
Group B Final Standings
1. Mexico: 13 pts; GF 18; GA 3; GD +15
2. Honduras: 10 pts; GF 11; GA 9; GD + 2
3. El Salvador: 8 pts; GF 9; GA 8; GD +1
4. Cuba: 4 pts; GF 5; GA 17; GD -12
5. Canada: 3 pts; GF 8; GA 11; GD -3
6. Haiti: 3 pts; GF 7; GA 10; GD -3
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OTF’s Austin Fido is @canetop. Follow him.