CONCACAF 2015 U-20 Championship: Group B Round 1 & 2 Round-Up
Austin Fido has a look at what’s happening in Group B of the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship after two rounds…
Two rounds completed in the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, and no team is having quite as good a time as Mexico.
Here’s a catch-up on El Tri‘s antics in Jamaica, as well as the rest of Group B. (What about Group A, you ask? That’s over here.)
Group B: Round 1
Early validation of the perception Mexico is the team to beat in this tournament, a remarkable fightback from El Salvador, and one of the rare occasions in recent years when a Canadian national soccer team has lived up to expectations.
It will take a little more evidence to determine whether this result owed more to Mexico, already considered a near-certainty to make the Championship final and a probable tournament winner, being even better than expected, or Cuba being not nearly as competitive as hoped.
Either way, nine goals is a lot to score, and concede, especially when El Tri allowed the last 20 minutes of the game to go by without further addition to the score line.
Cuba did provide brief resistance with a third-minute equalizer after falling behind in the first minute.
But Mexico, led by two goals and three assists from Pachuca’s Hirving Lozano, was relentless. Chivas de Guadalara’s Jose Ramirez arguably scored the pick of his team’s goals, though there were a lot to choose from.
El Salvador 2-2 Honduras
Group B’s contribution to the last-minute equalizer trend started by Group A was a 90th minute penalty converted by Jose Villavilencio. It was the unexpected culmination of a fightback that started in the 83rd minute, when Juan Barahona accepted the gift of being left unmarked in the penalty area by planting a header into the net.
El Salvador’s reaction at the final whistle spoke volumes: the team had apparently blown its chance early, allowing Honduras to race out to a two goal lead that stood up for almost the entire game. Both teams had chances, neither converted, and Los Catrachos were headed for a deserved win spearheaded by their two senior forwards, Bryan Rochez and Alberth Elis.
Didn’t happen. And El Salvador announced its candidacy for a top-three finish in the group by sharing points with one of the presumptive favorites for those positions.
Canada’s slow rise out of its recent soccer doldrums might start with this tournament. The U-20s don’t need to win the whole thing, just meet the relatively modest expectation that they will be competitive throughout the competition, and make an appearance in the latter stages.
It is easy with hindsight to say the Canadians should always have made light work of Haiti. But we’ve seen Canada teams turn up for CONCACAF tournaments and get humbled by opponents who were better prepared and more interested in winning. Remember Martinique?
So credit to the young Canadians for simply showing respect for the tournament and their opponents, taking things seriously, and taking the first step toward meeting the potential in their squad. An example for the senior team to follow in the Gold Cup.
Haiti on the other hand has some alarming defensive issues to work out.
Group B: Round 2
Mexico settled any doubt over its status as group and tournament favorite, Honduras continues to make meeting expectations look a little harder than you’d think, and Haiti offers its variation on one of the tournament’s emerging themes.
Hirving Lozano continued to suggest he is the best player on the best team of the tournament, opening the scoring for Mexico to take his tally to a tournament-leading three goals.
That was all that separated these teams until the final minute, when Diego Pineda got into position to tap in a second. In the interim, Canada can thank goalkeeper Nolan Wirth (and some bungled finishing by El Tri) for some excellent work to keep his team in the game…
…and curse its luck in not being able to convert the few chances that were created to equalize.
This result firmly supports the expectation that Mexico will win the group. Canada will take heart from having stayed with El Tri for much of the game, albeit thanks mostly to Wirth. Losing to what looks a lot like this year’s champion is not a setback for Canada in this competition.
A frustrating result for Cuba, who bounced back from humiliation against Mexico to give Honduras a scare, especially in the first half.
Both defenses were busy, and it was the injury-enforced departure of Cuba’s gloveman Elier Pozo midway through the second half that seemed to finally turn the game in Honduras’s favor.
Replacement Delvis Lumpuy didn’t have much chance to settle in; Alberth Elis scored his second goal of the tournament – as scrappy an effort as his first (against El Salvador) about a minute after the new ‘keeper entered the game.
Despite two losses and a -11 goal difference, Cuba still looks a team capable of taking points off an opponent in this tournament. The team can be a handful, especially early in games when energy levels are high.
As for Honduras, it will have to hope the fluency that it was able to conjure later in the match was not merely the result of flagging opposition and a reserve ‘keeper. There are sterner tests ahead, and the points dropped against El Salvador speak to a frailty not convincingly addressed by this performance.
It appeared as though Haiti would be left to lament a number of nearly-goals that just wouldn’t go in, and accept a 1-0 defeat.
But at-the-death equalizers have become something of a signature of this tournament. A late penalty gave Les Grenadiers a deserved point.
El Salvador were left in the unusual position of savoring exactly what they had inflicted on their previous opponent (Honduras): a draw snatched from the jaws of victory. The net result of a draw that should have been a loss and a draw that could have been a win is one point less than El Salvador probably was hoping for at this stage. Still, undefeated after two games counts for something: the Salvadorans are (just) in the mix for a place in the top three.
For Haiti, three points against Cuba in the next round must be secured if this result is to contribute toward any sort challenge for a place in the next round.
Group B Summary
Mexico’s imposing form supports the preconception that the rest of the group is fighting for second and third. The identity of those fortunate qualifiers remains somewhat in doubt: Canada and Honduras are still favorites in that regard, but we’ve seen just enough out of El Salvador and even Haiti to suggest the procession behind El Tri won’t necessarily be orderly.
Group B Standings after Round 2
1. Mexico: 6 pts; 11 GF; 1 GA; +10 GD
2. Honduras: 4 pts; 5 GF; 2 GA; +3 GD
3. Canada: 3 pts; 3 GF; 3 GA; 0 GD
4. El Salvador: 2 pt; 3 GF; 3 GA; 0 GD
5. Haiti: 1 pt; 2 GF; 4 GA; -2 GD
6. Cuba: 0 pts; 1 GF; 12 GA; -11 GD
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OTF’s CONCACAF editor Austin Fido isn’t always in the gif factory; sometimes he is on Twitter. Follow him @canetop.