Old amigos set up final showdown
Although they went late in both matches, things went by the book on Wednesday night in Houston as the USA and Mexico confirmed spots in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final by brushing aside underdog Central American opponents. The two will meet for the third consecutive time with continental bragging rights on the line - as well as a spot in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup - in the famous Rose Bowl outside of Los Angeles on Saturday. Panama had handed the host Americans an historic group stage loss just 11 days ago, but they succumbed to a late winner, while El Tri proved too resilient in extra time for 2010 FIFA World Cup™ participants Honduras.
The day replayed – US coach Bob Bradley, already without Jozy Altidore through injury, persisted with a starting line-up missing Landon Donovan, and both teams were uninspired in the first half. Despite topping Group C ahead of the US, Panama had revenge on their minds against a side that had not only defeated them in their only Gold Cup final, on penalties in 2005, but had eliminated them three straight times in the knockout rounds of this event. Starting in the striker spot, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo headed Steve Cherundulo’s cross from the right wing into the ground and off the bar in the 25th minute, but it wasn’t until the introduction of Donovan at half-time, and Freddy Adu later, that the hosts came to life. Already his country’s all-time top scorer, Donovan moved into second in appearances, winning his 135th cap, and it was his pin-point pass that picked out Clint Dempsey for the winner in the 76th minute.
After romping through Group A with 14 goals in three matches, Mexico struggled to overcome Guatemala in the quarter-finals and they found even heavier weather against physical Honduras. All eyes were on last-eight hero and tournament top scorer Javier Hernandez, and he eventually claimed his seventh goal of the event, but it was a long-time coming. The Manchester United prodigy had missed a gilt-edged chance in the 73rd minute as he thumped a header past the post from a free-kick, and Gio dos Santos wasted an even better opportunity on a solo breakaway against the goalkeeper 15 minutes later. However, a pair of Pablo Barrera corner-kicks set up Aldo de Nigris and Chicharito for goals in the first half of extra time. Honduras’ best chance came in the 90th minute as US-based Roger Espinoza forced a desperate tip from goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera from his 25-metre blast.
100 – The number of goals the USA have scored in the Gold Cup after Dempsey’s 22nd tally for the US. The Fulham man has bulged the net three times at the Gold Cup after setting the season record for an American in the English Premier League with 12 goals this past term.
Player of the day
Freddy Adu (United States)
When it seemed like the US would be drifting into extra time against the strong Panamanians, Adu made an intelligent touch in the middle of the pitch before picking out Donovan breaking free on the right with a long pass. The LA Galaxy player put to rest any questions about his form with a bullet of a cross that went through the defence to find prolific forward Dempsey at the back post. But it was the moment of inspiration from the one-time golden boy of US Soccer that caught the eye. Having entered the match in the 66th minute, the Turkey-based 22-year-old immediately brought a spark to the middle of the pitch, and at the end he showed a calm head in helping his side hold on for the victory.
Goal of the day
Mexico-Honduras, Aldo de Nigris (93’)
With Mexican nerves starting to jangle and penalties looming in the imagination, De Nigris floated out of the sky and placed a snap header into the top corner of the goal just at the beginning of extra time. He showed great balance and strength to hold off a defender while angling himself to meet the out-swinging corner from Barrera. A second-half substitute, the veteran forward also headed the ball back to Hernandez to bundle over the line for the second.
Quote of the day
“When the opportunity comes you have to do whatever it takes to help the team. Today, I was told to ‘come in, bring energy and try to make a difference’, and I am happy I was able to do that,” substitute Freddy Adu after helping to set up the USA’s late winner against Panama.
On Saturday 25 June, the venerable Rose Bowl - host of the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ and the 1999 Women’s World Cup Finals - will be the venue for another meeting between the US and their main regional rivals Mexico. The Stars and Stripes are seeking their fifth continental title, while El Tri will be hoping to take their Gold Cup haul to six. In 2009, Mexico pounded their northern neighbours 5-0 in the final in New Jersey.