While Costa Rica’s meeting with Honduras turned out to be the gritty, close-fought encounter most observers predicted, Mexico were given an unexpectedly stiff examination by unfancied Guatemala and had to work hard to progress.
Costa Rica 1-1 Honduras (2-4 on penalties)
Mexico 2-1 Guatemala
The day replayed
The day began with the game most of Central America had been waiting for: Costa Rica versus Honduras. The latest instalment in a battle for regional supremacy that is growing ever more intense, the game also provided the biggest test to date for the two sides’ respective new coaches: Luis Fernando Suarez for Honduras and Ricardo La Volpe for Costa Rica.
Following a first half in which Suarez’s men failed to translate their dominance into goals, they needed only three minutes of the second to take the lead, striker Jerry Bengtson slotting the ball into an empty net after Javier Portillo’s shot had been saved. Stung into action, La Volpe’s charges quickly pulled level courtesy of a fine header by Dennis Marshall. And in a breathless finale, in which chances came and went at both ends, Alvaro Saborio had his 76th-minute penalty saved by Catracho goalkeeper Noel Valladares. It proved to be a bad omen for Los Ticos, who failed twice more from the spot in the resulting shootout, with Honduras keeping their nerve from 12 yards out to squeeze into the semis.
Waiting for them there will be tournament favourites Mexico, who also did things the hard way against Guatemala, falling behind for the first time in the competition before coming back to win. It was Carlos Ruiz who gave Los Chapines the lead only five minutes in, evading the clutches of Hector Moreno and lofting the ball over the advancing Alfredo Talavera. Defending bravely for the rest of the half, the underdogs held the Mexicans at bay, but the half-time introduction of Aldo de Nigris would tilt the game in El Tri’s favour.
Within three minutes of the restart De Nigris had equalised, and the Mexicans finally ended Guatemala’s brave resistance midway through the half when Javier Chicharito Hernandez cheekily backheeled them into the semi-finals from Pablo Barrera’s pinpoint pass.
2 – The number of penalties Honduras keeper Noel Valladares has saved in the last two games, the only penalties missed in normal time in the competition to date. After denying Jamaica’s Richard Johnson from the spot in their final group game, the Catracho custodian was at it again, thwarting Costa Rica’s Alvaro Saborio in the second half of Saturday’s quarter-final to keep his side afloat.
Player of the day
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
The Mexico striker maintained his wonderful form on Saturday, scoring his sixth goal in four games to pull well clear as the tournament’s leading marksman. El Chicharito has found the back of the net in every match so far, bar the win over Costa Rica in the group phase.
Goal of the day
Mexico-Guatemala, Javier Hernandez 68
And Hernandez it was who scored the day’s outstanding goal, which also took Mexico through to the last four. Having already spurned two presentable chances, the Mexico livewire made no mistake with the third, stealing in behind the unsuspecting Guatemala defence and converting Pablo Barrera’s low centre with the cutest of backheels.
Quote of the day
“There are times when luck plays a part. We had a chance to win the game but we couldn’t take it because that’s football. I think we ended the match the stronger side by far but it’s not always the better team that wins,” Ricardo La Volpe, Costa Rica coach
The remaining two quarter-finals are played out on Sunday, with hosts USA taking on a rejuvenated Jamaica and surprise packages Panama meeting El Salvador. The winners face off in the semis on Wednesday, when Mexico and Honduras will also do battle for a place in the final.
Have your say
Which side played the best football in the opening two quarter-finals, Mexico or Honduras?