Host country defeats heavy favorites to clinch a ticket to the 2011 U20 World Cup. Buoyed by a lively crowd, the Guatemalans pulled off one memorable upset.
The Americans were left ruing their missed opportunities in the opening minutes as the Guatemalans withstood a trio of breakaways from the visitors. Lifted by a partisan crowd, the Guatemalans were rallied by cries of “si se puede” throughout the game to overcome the perennial Goliaths of CONCACAF youth tournaments.
With the victory, the Guatemalans seize its first-ever berth into the U20 World Cup, joining Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama from the region. The Americans are left with a huge disappointment after failing to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1995.
The Americans weathered opening jitters and had most of the positive play in the first 20 minutes but went into the break with nothing to show for it.
Midfielder Kelyn Rowe had three golden chances early in the half to put his stamp on the game. His first chance came in the eighth minute when Amobi Okugo won a tackle in the midfield and quickly sent Kelyn Rowe in behind the Guatemala defense. The UCLA freshman took a touch around the keeper, but his shot was too weak and cleared by a recovering defender.
Minutes later, Rowe again was behind the defense, but this time he was too slow and had the ball tackled away by a retreating defender. The onslaught of chances for Rowe continued shortly after when right back Zarek Valentin sent in a perfect cross, but his header went just wide of the post.
As the “Si se puede” chants rang around the stadium, Guatemala put two dangerous crosses into the box that provided some nervous moments for the American defense about 25 minutes into the half.
Eight minutes later, Gerson Lima sent the host’s fans into frenzy when he headed home a corner kick by Kendel Herrarte. The Americans were confused on their assignments on the set piece and left Lima – the only goal scorer for Guatemala during this tournament – wide open six yards from goal.
Minutes before half, Guatemala nearly doubled the lead when Herrarte tried his luck from distance. The birthday boy’s shot took an awkward skip off the grass and required U.S. keeper Zac MacMath to shepherd it out for a corner.
The Guatemalans came out on the attack early in the second half with multiple shots on goal in the first five minutes. MacMath did well to provide the saves and keep it a one-goal game.
The Americans had a great chance seven minutes into the second half when the Guatemala keeper bobbled a cross and left the net wide open. Striker Conor Doyle attempted a sliding kick from the grass but his effort clanged off the post.
U.S. had another shot thwarted minutes later when Okugo ripped a 25 yard volley on frame, but goalkeeper Jose Garcia made a tremendous fingertip save.
The Americans were rewarded for their consistent pressure on the Guatemala defense when Okugo played Doyle in behind the back four and the Derby County striker tipped it over the on-rushing keeper and into the back of the net.
The equalizer would not stand for long as Guatemala punished the Americans for another sloppy defensive effort when both U.S. center backs failed to clear a long ball into their defensive third.
With no defenders left on their feet, Guatemala forward Henry Lopez collected the ball 18 yards from goal and slotted his shot into the bottom right corner of the net past MacMath.
The Americans were unable to push through the high pressure of the Guatemalan defense and hardly troubled Garcia in the final ten minutes.
After three minutes of added time, the celebrations broke out all over the stadium and Guatemala had clinched an improbable ticket into the U20 World Cup. The host country will play against Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinal round.
MacMath; Valentin, Agbossoumonde (Orozco ’83), Kitchen, Hernandez; Lletget, Okugo, Rowe; Gyau, Doyle, Garza (Salgado ’77)
Garcia, Moreno, Ramirez, Enoc, Aguila, Ceballos (Norales ’72), Castillo, Lopez (Bonilla), Herrarte, Lemus, G. Lima (C. Lima ’46)
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