Mexico have enjoyed tremendous success at youth and senior level over the past year, so it came as little surprise when El Tri confirmed their place at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. Joining the Mexicans in London will be Honduras, who, after reaching the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, have shown little sign of relinquishing their new-found status among the CONCACAF elite.
In booking their place at this summer’s Olympic Games, Mexico and Honduras emerged the winners in their respective semi-finals against Canada and El Salvador at the CONCACAF U-23 Men’s Championship. However, it was Mexico who bagged victory in the final over La Bicolor to claim an impressive sixth title at the regional finals.
FIFA.com reviews these latter rounds of action, as well as a few surprises that were sprung along the way in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.
Canada and El Salvador stun USA
Before the pool was whittled down to just two triumphant nations, eight teams had entered the competition with dreams of reaching London. In Group A, hosts USA showed promise against Cuba to open the tournament but were overcome by Canada, before falling short against section winners El Salvador.
The Canadians opened their campaign at the regional finals in decent measure, grabbing a point in a goalless draw against a Salvadoran side keen on counter-attacking. With USA sitting pretty atop the group after a convincing 6-0 rout of Cuba to start, few anticipated the shock turn of events.
The Americans entered their second match against the Canucks in confident mood, but were stunned by two second-half strikes from Doneil Henry and Lucas Cavallini. The loss put USA in a must-win situation against El Salvador in their final group match.
Playing on home soil, the United States entered the tournament primed for success, but El Salvador, who were searching for their first Olympic qualification since 1968, had other ideas. German-American Terrence Boyd gave USA the lead in just the second minute, but replies from Lester Blanco and Andres Flores put El Salvador ahead at half-time. Two quickfire strikes from Boyd and Joe Corona in the second half put USA on course for progression, but Jaime Alas stunned onlookers with an equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time to send La Selecta through to the last four. Canada progressed after finished second on goal difference behind the Central Americans having drawn 1-1 with an already-eliminated Cuba.
Meanwhile, things were far more straightforward in the other section. Mexico fared as expected, navigating past all three of their group stage opponents in Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras and Panama with relative ease. After their failure to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Mexico have bounced back in resounding fashion at all levels. With victory at the FIFA U-17 World Cup and a semi-final finish at the FIFA U-20 World Cup last summer, expectations are high for the current crop of U-23 Mexican players.
El Tri opened their campaign with a 7-1 thrashing of Trinidad and Tobago, before Alan Pulido scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Honduras. Erick Torres then hit an injury-time winner to seal a 1-0 victory against Panama and ensure their top-of-the-table status in Group B.
London in sight
With four teams remaining and just two tickets to London 2012 on offer, it was Honduras who first assured their place as they defeated El Salvador in a thrilling extra-time decider in the semi-finals.
In a hard-fought encounter, Antony Lozano opened the scoring within just one minute for Honduras. Los Catrachos’ fiery start appeared to have them headed for the final, but Milton Molina intervened in the closing stages to force extra time. Honduras were up to the challenge, though, with Gerson Rodas scoring twice while El Salvador were only able to muster a reply through Edwin Sanchez in between.
While Honduras were celebrating progression to their third Olympic Games, Mexico and Canada got things underway in the later semi-final. And it didn’t take long to get a pro-Mexico crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City up off their feet. Chivas Guadalajara midfielder Marco Fabian opened the scoring on 20 minutes to get the ball rolling for Mexico, but Marcus Haber’s reply gave Canada a brief glimpse of hope. Tournament-leading goalscorer Pulido restored the Mexicans' lead, however, while Miguel Ponce made sure of the result.
In having grabbed the most important prize on offer, both Honduras and Mexico set out to battle for the regional crown in what would be their fifth match in just 11 days. Despite having come off their nail-biting encounter in the last four, Honduras went ahead through Romell Quioto on 48 minutes after neither side had a good sight on goal throughout the first half.
Chivas star Fabian picked up where he left off in the last four, though, netting an equaliser to tie the game at a goal apiece and move level on goals scored with team-mate Pulido. In injury time, Honduras were reduced to ten men when Luis Garrido was sent off for a second caution. The loss proved to be a fatal blow as the Hondurans were facing their second bout of extra time in as many days. Mexico had had the better play throughout, and finally got their just reward in the final period of the two hours when Miguel Ponce made his volley count. And if the Hondurans had any belief remaining in the final minutes, it was all but eliminated when Wilmer Crisanto was also given his marching orders. It was a cruel finish for a battling Honduran side, but a sweet success for the Mexicans who look on course to live up to expectations.