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  • One more hurdle to go as North American men's footballers reach do-or-die qualifier


    The all-important semi-finals for the 2022 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship are set, determining who will qualify for men's football at Paris 2024. With this the only North American qualifier in men's football, and two countries qualifying, the equation is simple: the winners will play in the Olympics, and the losers won't. All four winners of the quarter-finals have qualified for the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia.


    The United States took on Costa Rica in the first game of a double-header at the Estadio Morazán in San Pedro Sula. Early in the first half, Paxton Aaronsen finished off a break to give the Americans the lead, and the same player smashed home a cross early in the second half to get the second and final goal of the game. The Americans safely through to the semifinals. In the later game, Panama took on Honduras. A brilliant effort from outside the box from Ricardo Gorday gave the visitors the lead, but Honduras turned around the game with a tale of two penalties. The first one was saved on the stroke of half time before Marco Aceituno tucked home the rebound to make it 1-1. And when Aceituno was bought down by Omar Alba in a challenge that can only be described as 'tired', Aceituno stepped up and smashed Honduras into the semi-final against the US.


    On the second day it was another double-header, this time at the Estadio Olímpico in the same city. The Dominican Republic faced Jamaica and it was a game decided by an early goal, with a great bit of skill from Ángel Montes De Oca well worth a win for the Dominicans. In the final game, Guatemala took on Mexico. And it was Guatemala that drew first blood, with a cross headed in by Arquimedes Ordoñez. But when a freekick was forced in by Esteban Lozano who knew little about it it seemed the game was destined for extra-time, until El Tri got a late late penalty. But an 88th minute save did send the game to extra time. And that proved indecisive too, so there would be a penalty shoot-out. Jesús Hernández stepped up first for Mexico, but saw his penalty saved, while Mathius Gaitán scored to give Guatemala the lead. Things turned desperate for Mexico when Isaías Violante saw his shot saved too, and Daniel Cardoza scored to double the Guatemalans' lead. Antonio Leone then hit the woodwork for Mexico, meaning Carlos Santos had the chance to win it for Guatemala, but his effort was saved. Jesús Alcantar still had to score, and did just that to keep it alive, but now Jefry Bantes could score to win it for Guatemala... but it was saved again! A miracle comeback may have been on the cards for Mexico, but Bryan González still had to score, and the keeper guessed correctly and Guatemala were through to face the Dominican Republic.


    So the semifinals will take place on 1 July at Estadio Morazán in San Pedro Sula: the US vs Honduras at 1700 local time (UTC -6) and the Dominican Republic vs Guatemala three hours later. Then, the final will take place on 3 July at 1700 local time at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano. Check here for broadcasting information.


    The US vs Honduras is an intriguing encounter, arguably between the two strongest teams in the tournament. The US were number one seed and started their group with a 10-0 win over St. Kitts and Nevis, before a 2-2 draw against Canada representing a minor hiccup and then an impressive 3-0 win over a very respectable Cuba side to top the group. In the Round of 16, a 5-0 win over Nicaragua was then followed by a very reasonable 2-0 win over a Costa Rica side who had impressed up to that point. Honduras are the number four seed but have home advantage and their crowds have grown as they advanced in the tournament. The only team to have a 100% record in the group, they did so without conceding, winning 3-0 over Antigua and Barbuda, 5-0 over Jamaica and 1-0 over Costa Rica. A 4-1 win over Curaçao was followed by a battling 2-1 win over Panama, but the US is a new level for them and it will be an exciting match.


    On the other side, the Dominican Republic had to pre-qualify for the competition as they were not ranked in the top 16 (the highest team to miss out), with a 6-0 win over Anguilla, 2-0 wins over Saint Martin and Belize and then a 2-2 draw with Saint Lucia enough to qualify with all games on home soil. They were 2-0 down with two minutes to go in that final game and would not have qualified for the tournament if they hadn't found two late goals: now they are one game away from the Olympics. Having pre-qualified they got a bye to the Round of 16 where they shocked El Salvador 5-4 and then despatched Jamaica 1-0, and are one game away from a fairytale. But Guatemala, who were the eleventh seed have battled through: despite starting off with a 5-1 loss to El Salvador, they picked themselves up and beat Panama, the number one seed in their group 3-1, and then managed to snatch a 2-1 win over Aruba. They then battled to a 1-1 draw against Canada and won on penalties, and did the same against Mexico, having a bit of luck seeing as El Tri missed an 88th minute penalty. Both teams have what it takes to win this match, but only one can come out on top.


    Patrick Green

    Writer, Totallympics News


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