WCQ: Mexico Wins, Panama Surprises

Results from the opening match day of the semifinal stage of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.

By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (June 9, 2012) US Soccer Players – The United States was not the only team to start the Semifinal Round of CONCACAF World Cup on Friday with a win.  Mexico, Jamaica, Canada and Panama also posted wins in their opening games.

Over the next 17 months, the USA and 11 other CONCACAF nations will play to determine which top two teams from each of the three groups advance to the final 10-game round robin tournament known as the Hexagonal.

As many as four of those teams – the USA, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica are favored – can qualify for Brazil '14.   The dark horses are Panama, Canada, Guatemala and Jamaica.  The top three finishers of the Hexagonal advance to the World Cup finals.  The fourth enters a playoff against the winner of the Oceania group.

After watching the USA down Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 in Tampa, here is a recap of the round’s other five games:

Group A

Jamaica 2 – Guatemala 1

Jamaica defeated Guatemala, the USA’s next opponent in Qualifying, 2-1 in Kingston following goals by Demar Phillips and Ryan Johnson. Phillips scored in the 40th minute and Johnson added what turned out to be the game-winner in the 46th to give Jamaica (1-0-0) all three points.  Guatemala (0-1-0) pulled one back with Dwight Pezzarossi two minutes into stoppage time. 

The victory marked Jamaica’s sixth win over the Central Americans since the sides first met in 1969.  Jamaica has won 10 of 13 games over that time.

Group B

Mexico 3 – Guyana 1

After taking a 2-0 lead after just 15 minutes, Mexico defeated Caribbean minnows Guyana 3-1 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in the first-ever encounter between the nations. Goals from Carlos Salcido, Giovanni dos Santos, and an own goal ensured the Mexican victory.

Salcido put Mexico (1-0-0) ahead after just 11 minutes, shooting the ball past a trio of defenders.  Dos Santos doubled that lead four minutes later, blasting the ball from inside the arc, following a series of brilliant passes.  Mexico, up 2-0 at halftime, put the game away in the 51st minute when Andres Guardado crossed a ball that found Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.  The Manchester United forward flicked the ball with his heal. The ball struck John Rodrigues and bounced into the net for the own goal.

Guyana (0-1-0) eventually pulled one back nine minutes later when second-half substitute Gregory Richardson sent in a cross from the right that Mexico’s Hector Moreno inadvertently deflected into his own goal.

Costa Rica 2 – El Salvador 2

In the only draw of the day, El Salvador staged a two-goal rally on the road to earn a 2-2 tie with Costa Rica in San Jose. With Costa Rica up 2-1, the game had to be suspended for 20 minutes after lighting failure plunged the Estadio Nacional into darkness in the 31st minute. Costa Rica (0-0-1) had taken the lead with Alvaro Saborio after just nine minutes. Joel Campbell doubled Costa Rica's lead just six minutes later. El Salvador (0-0-1) managed to come within one before the break with an Isidro Gutierrez strike in the 23rd minute. Osael Romero completed the comeback by netting the equalizer in the 54th. 

Group C

Canada 1 – 0 Cuba

Canada, reduced to ten men after goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld was sent off, defeated Cuba 1-0 in Havana.  Striker Oliver Occean’s header in the 54th minute off a cross from David Edgar won the game for the Canadians.

“We knew what it was going to be like, whether you're playing with 10 or playing with 11," Canada coach Stephen Hart told reporters after the game. "We wanted to put them under pressure by scoring early, but that didn't happen for us.”

DC United’s Dwayne De Rosario could have scored right before halftime, but his attempt struck the crossbar.  Occean’s goal finally gave Canada (1-0-0) the lead, but nine minutes later Hirschfeld was red carded when he handled the ball outside the box.

As a result of the loss, Cuba (0-1-0) extended its winless streak to eight games. The Cubans have not won since May 2011 when it managed a 2-1 victory over Nicaragua.  

Panama 2 – 0 Honduras

In what turned out to be the biggest upset of the night, Panama downed Honduras 2-0 following two goals from Blas Perez in San Pedro Sula. The loss was only the fourth defeat ever at home for Honduras (0-1-0) in World Cup Qualifying. The game was deadlocked until Perez scored in the 65th minute. Perez added a second for Panama (1-0-0) in the 80th minute to complete the upset. Honduras, who reached the World Cup finals in 2010, entered the night as the favorite to win the group.

Clemente Lisi is a New York-based writer. Contact him at: CAL4477@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi

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