… And then there were four. The CONCACAF Gold Cup ends this week with a delicious semi-final. Qatar against the United States and Mexico vs. Canada – on the Thursday evening before the finals on Sunday in Las Vegas.
It was an ebb and flow tournament for the last four teams, each answering some open questions to summarize their quarterfinal wins over the weekend. Who looks strong on the way to the semi-finals? What did we learn about these sites? ESPN’s writers prepare you for the semi-finals by showing you how each team punched their ticket.
CANADA: Next generation ready for bigger and better
Canada has made significant strides in the past few years as a footballing nation, and their 2-0 victory above Costa Rica on Sunday night could only have signaled a changing of the guard with regard to the CONCACAF hierarchy.
Although he is without any injured European stars Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin, as well as promising young Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola – he suffered a right cruciate ligament tear In their loss to the USA last Sunday, Canada completely defeated World Cup regular Costa Rica and claimed to be the third best team in CONCACAF.
English Football League veteran Junior Hoilett and Portugal-based midfielder Stephen Eustaquio scored the goals while Canada defensively Costa Rica – the 50th nation in the world according to FIFA and a team that has qualified to two consecutive World Cups and four of the last five – kept shooting on goal without a single one. The biggest realization will be that they did this without Davies and David, a sign that they are finally a nation ready to regularly compete in regional competitions and qualify for World Cups.
While Canada has always been a nation that has been able to produce one or two great players, a “golden generation” is beginning to emerge in which Davies (20) and David (21) are a group of talented young players up to the age of 24 to which also Gold Cup outstanding Akinola, Eustaquio, Tajon Buchanan and Theo Corbeanu. Add veterans like Hoilett, Larin, Lucas Cavallini, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Steven Vitoria, and there is no reason Canada shouldn’t qualify for Qatar 2022.
But first they have a Gold Cup semi-final against mighty Mexico on Thursday evening. John Herdman’s side have already lived up to expectations by reaching the semi-finals, but a win over Mexico would help Canada establish itself as a footballing nation. Canada has that United States in 2019 for the first time in 34 years, and a victory over Mexico on Thursday – a team that has beaten it only three times in its history and hasn’t beaten it since 2000 – would be the next step in Canada’s upward trend as an aspiring CONCACAF force. – Gus Elvin
MEXICO: Martino’s page search form at the right time
Opposite Honduras Due to injuries and illness, Mexico found the perfect opponents to regain their confidence after a shaky group stage. El Tri was relentlessly attacking in the first half, scoring three goals in 12 minutes and being sidelined two more.
Mexico nearly matched their offensive performance throughout the group stage during Saturday’s win in Honduras. Coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino used his 4-3-3 formation to drive through the wings for most of the game. The Argentine tactician allowed his side defenders to push the field up and create mismatches against a battered Honduran defensive line, creating constant opportunities for El Tri‘s attacker. The strategy worked perfectly when you consider that all three goals fell directly or indirectly after a cross from the wide area.
Striker. faces a lot of criticism from the Mexican media and fans before the quarter-finals Rogelio Villnöss Mori showed a solid offensive performance, scoring the first goal of the game and consistently threatening the Honduran goalkeeper Luis Lopez. Funes Mori and wingers Orbelin Pineda formed a highly effective attack partnership (Pineda scored his second tournament goal with a header), partly supported by solid performances from Luis Rodriguez, Jesus Corona and Jonathan dos Santos. Honduras, unable to deploy multiple regular players due to COVID-19 (or injuries) Alberth Elis), looked overwhelmed for the vast majority of the procedures.
After the stony group stage mentioned above, Mexico is now rolling into the semi-finals against Canada with new expectations in order to repeat itself as the Gold Cup winner. At this point, it seems hard to imagine that a potential adversary moving forward will be able to withstand Mexico’s renewed broad assault. – Eric Gomez
QATAR: Not here to make up the numbers
It probably should have happened sooner considering that Qatar made it to the Gold Cup as defending Asia Cup champions but while building a 3-0 lead against El Salvador On Saturday it clicked in the minds of the audience: This team can play. If the Qataris win the Gold Cup, it shouldn’t come as a shock. It would still take some luck, of course, but given their strong commitment to attacking football over four games, Qatar was arguably the most entertaining team at the tournament.
As the host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar needed such a test. This is not a team that has any expectations of making a deep run on home soil next year; Performing respectable, competitive performance is a fair way of measuring success. And what caught the eye of the Gold Cup is that Qatar has a pretty good formula to make up for the lack of high-end talent: continuity.
Part of the challenge of international football is the lack of reps that bring players together, but Qatar started the quarterfinals with six players from domestic power Al Sadd, and everyone on the tournament list plays club football in the Qatar Stars League. There is a familiarity that shows in their ability to create consistent opportunities over the past few weeks. In Almoez Ali and Akram Afif, Qatar has two talented strikers – both played professionally in Europe before returning to Qatar – who are the strengths of this team.
Defensively, the results were less consistent. El Salvador almost made up three-goal deficit on Saturday night while Panama Put three goalkeepers behind you Barsham Mesa in the opener. Expect a wide open game against the US in the semifinals. – Kyle Bonagura
The victory of the US men’s national team against Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, highlighted the growth of the team in that tournament. Some players have seen steady advancement, like the center-backs Miles Robinson and James Sands. Matthew Hoppe went into overdrive to bag the only goal of the game.
For others, the growth was uneven, but on Sunday some of the performances were of the bounce-back variety. This was particularly evident in the US midfield and was supported by a tactical tweak from manager Gregg Berhalter. Against Canada, Gianluca Busio was (mostly) ranked No. 6 in support of Kellyn Acosta and Sebastian Lletgetalthough his area of responsibility included the license to move forward occasionally. But the trio faded as the game progressed, with Busio in particular struggling to make an impact.
So Berhalter changed some roles, with Acosta switching back to a more traditional No. 6 and Busio continuing to be used in the field. It worked because almost everything was better, be it possession (65.8% versus 34.2%) or duels (55.6% versus 44.4%). It also played off the strengths of the respective players, with Acosta adding a little more bite and Busio freeing up to add more to the attack. Lletget is as smart and patient on the ball as ever. As the game entered the final stages, the US got stronger and the contributions of the substitutes Cristian Roldan and Gyasi Zardes were also important.
The solidarity and structure of these three players bode well for the upcoming semi-final against Qatar. The Maroon looked stunning in transition, and while Jamaica was threatened by some of these opportunities, the U.S. midfield did a lot to contain these types of attacks. The Acosta range in particular is a valuable asset.
The semi-finals on Thursday against the reigning Asian champions will be difficult, but the US team seems to come together at the right time. Another growth spurt could bring them to the finals. – Jeff Carlisle