Make or break in CONCACAF
The last eight of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup puts some exciting clashes on the table at the weekend. Hosts and holders USA will take on hopeful Panama in a replay of the 2005 final, while Mexico meet a resurgent Haiti. Canada will face off with Honduras in a grudge match with a score to settle as Guadeloupe meet favourites Costa Rica. Join FIFA.com for a closer look at the quarter-final round of CONCACAF's biennial showpiece.
Saturday 18 July will see the hosts in action in the so-called City of Brotherly Love. However, all generous romanticism will surely be put to one side as the Americans, fresh off winning Group B, take aim at a third-straight Gold Cup crown. Standing in their way are Panama, an up-and-coming side and surprise champions of Central America. "They (Panama) push you all the time physically," Stuart Holden, a star in Bob Bradley's youthful and largely experimental squad, told FIFA.com. "We'll need to battle them back, keep our shape and stay strong and tight. If we keep our heads and control the rhythm of the game, we should be ok."
Panama, for their part, have never beaten the US and will be aiming to make history of their own with a place in the semi-finals. "It's a young US team, we know that much, but a lot of times those young boys are the ones that have the extra motivation to show something and make a name," said Panama's British-born coach Gary Stempel on the eve of the showdown, knowing the US have not lost at home in a competitive match since 2001. "If we don't prepare fully, we'll be in trouble."
The other game in Philly on Saturday will pit Canada, surprise winners of Group A, against Honduras in an intriguing tie. The Catrachos, led by standouts Carlos Costly and Walter Martinez, were the team responsible for knocking Canada out of the running for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, and the Canucks - winners of the Gold Cup back in 2000 - are eager to set the record straight. "Honduras are a good, technical and physical team," Ali Gerba, Canada's top scorer at these finals, told FIFA.com in a recent interview. "We have to keep to our game and not let them get comfortable. They have a lot of skill, but we can choke the game off and keep control of it."
The action will the move south to Dallas, Texas on Sunday. Mexico, who, like USA, have four CONCACAF titles, will be in action against a Haitian outfit that were seconds away from handing the USA a home defeat last time out in Boston.
A largely experimental El Tri laboured to top Group C after starting off with an unconvincing win over minnows Nicaragua and then drawing 1-1 with Panama. Head coach Javier Aguirre is still serving a three-game suspension for his part in the mêlée against Los Canaleros and will hope his men can keep up the improvement they showed last time out in a comfortable win over Guadeloupe. "We're thinking about getting the cup and making it all the way to the final," said defender Jonny Magallon ahead of the game in Texas which will be as close as it gets to a home game for the Mexicans, given its proximity to the border. "We know that we need to go step by step. We have to wait for every rival, but with 11 against 11 on the pitch, anything can happen."
The Haitians, though, will be no pushovers, as their 2-2 draw with the USA clearly shows. The other remaining Caribbean participant, Guadeloupe, will also be in action on Sunday as they take on mighty Costa Rica. Los Ticos struggled in their group, finishing second in the section, but still have one of the strongest sides at these finals, with young playmaker Celso Borges leading the way. Runaway leaders in qualifying for South Africa 2010, the Central Americans are widely regarded as the third power - behind USA and Mexico - in the CONCACAF zone. Adding to their optimism on Sunday will be the fact that the Gwada Boys will be missing Alain Vertot and Ludovic Gotin, both of whom were sent off in the last game against Mexico.