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  • American and Dominican men's footballers qualify for Paris 2024


    The North American men's football qualifiers are set with the CONCACAF Under 20 Championship now complete.


    The semifinals took place in Estadio Morazán in San Pedro Sula, with the winners of each knowing they would qualify to Paris 2024 as the two representatives of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic took on Guatemala in the first game with Guatemala racing into an early lead. First Arquimides Ordoñez headed home a cross before Sebastián Mañón poked a teasing ball into his own goal. But the Dominican Republic fought back with two goals in quick succession in the second half: first Guillermo de Peña took advantage of a loose ball before Edison Azcona's low long shot found its way in. No more goals would come in regulation time, and extra time was mostly uneventful, apart from a Dominican penalty being overturned by the video assistant referee (VAR). So the Olympic spot and a place in the final would be decided on penalties. First Thomas Jungbauer stepped up for the Dominican Republic and sent the goalie the wrong way. And they had a clear advantage when Mathius Gaitán hit the post. But when Ángel Montes De Oca skied it and Daniel Cardoza dispatched his spot-kick the scores were level again. Azcona and Johnathan Franco both looked as cool as a cucumber, so it was 2-2 with two penalties each left. De Peña put his home, but Ordoñez saw his shot saved to give Adhonys María the chance to send the Dominican Republic through to the final, and that was exactly what he did.


    The other semifinal was at the same stadium as part of a double-header, and the US took on Honduras. And the Stars and Stripes did not delay as Paxton Aaronson poked home a freekick to put them ahead just two minutes in. Alejandro Alvarado Jr. then doubled the lead when his shot squirmed past the goalkeeper, and a large crowd were even more disappointed when Quinn Sullivan put in an open goal. A massacre was avoided as there were no goals in the semifinal, but things did get worse for the hosts when Jefryn Macías earned a late red card for a horror tackle on Nikolas Tsakiris.


    The final took place at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, although both teams knew they would be in the Olympic Games no matter what. It was the US who drew first blood, with Tyler Wolff heading home a cross. Aaronson, certainly the star of the tournament doubled the lead with a smart short-range finish, before Noah Allen's deflected effort pretty much wrapped up the game before half time. There was still time for more though: Jack Mc Glynn fired in at long range with a low effort, before the Dominicans failed to mark Aaronson from a free-kick as the Philadelphia Union player got his seventh goal of the tournament. The final goal would be scored by Tsakiris as the Dominican Republic failed to clear their lines, to wrap up a hugely impressive 6-0 victory and take home the trophy.


    In men's football, the US have only ever won two medals, with the bizarre tournament at St. Louis 1904 containing one Canadian team and two American teams: Christian Brothers College won silver and St. Rose Parish won silver. But in the modern era they have won nothing. Since men's football became an underage competition in Barcelona 1992, the best they have done is a fourth placed finish in Sydney 2000. But they have missed the last three tournaments: a last minute goal conceded to El Salvador in Nashville cost them in 2012, a loss to Colombia scuppered their chances in 2016, and in 2020 it was Honduras that beat them. For a country that is becoming more and more of a 'soccer' nation, this triple failure was unacceptable for a country that looks to fight to be the best in the continent. But it seems they benefited from the change in format with the Under-20 Championship doubling as a qualifier (rather than a separate Under-23 championship). Throughout they were dominant, with a mature performance against a partisan crowd in the semifinal, fully justifying their top-seeded position and they deserve their place in Paris.


    The Dominican Republic's story is remarkable. It is the first time a Dominican football team of either gender has qualified for the Olympics, and 2020 was the first time they had even qualified for the qualification event, coming last and losing every game in their group. They were ranked so low that they had to enter a qualifying round, where they were 2-0 down to Saint Lucia and heading out with two minutes to go, before two late goals got them the goal they needed. Beating an impressive El Salvador side who topped their group 5-4 was one thing, before they showed perseverance against Jamaica and resilience to come back from 2-0 down against Guatemala. The 6-0 loss in the final aside, they may have gotten some luck but they also deserve their place in the final.


    North American men's football qualification for the Olympics is thus decided: the champions, the US and the runners-up Honduras will go to Paris. They will also enter the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia, where they will be joined by losing semi-finalists Honduras and Guatemala. The other country in the Olympics is hosts France, with all other qualifying events listed currently as "to be determined". However, for football fans, the women's North American event, the CONCACAF W Championship, starts soon.


    Patrick Green

    Writer, Totallympics News


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