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  • Quarter-finals take shape as North American men's footballers two games away from Olympics


    The CONCACAF Under-20 Championship is in full swing now and the Round of 16 is over. With the two finalists qualifying for the Olympics, this is the sole Paris 2024 qualifying competition in men's football for North Americans.


    Costa Rica faced Trinidad and Tobago at Estadio Yankel Rosenthal. A handball by Jahiem Joseph in the box gave Costa Rica the chance to make the perfect start and Josimar Alcócer stepped up to do exactly that. Costa Rica were the dominant side and added to their lead in the second half with a tap-in from Shawn Johnson. A rebound from Dorian Rodríguez made it three, before the same player latched onto a through ball for 4-0. Trinidad and Tobago were heading out but had time for one positive moment, with Molik Khan putting in the consolation. Still, an impressive performance by Costa Rica and they are through to the quarter-finals.


    Cuba met Panama at the Estadio Nacional. Both teams had chances in the first half but it remained a somewhat tetchy affair. And the only goal fit the contest: a scrappy goal forced in by Carlos Rivera to give Panama the win. It was a disappointment for Cuba who had been impressive in the tournament up to this point but will play no further part.


    Later at the Yankel Rosenthal, hosts Honduras took on Curaçao. And it didn't take long for the home side to take the lead, with Marco Aceituno latching onto a sloppy backpass. But Curaçao fought back, with Rayvian Job latching onto a "route one" ball over the top and equalising in prolific fashion. That was as good as it got for the qualifiers though, with Honduras' Geremy Rodas heading home a corner in first-half injury time and Odin Ramos heading home a cross after the break. There was time for one more Honduras goal when Nigel Marengo fouled Jefryn Macías in the box and Miguel Carrasco fired it into the top corner for a 4-1 victory. Honduras have looked impressive all tournament and will be relishing a quarterfinal against Panama.


    The final game of the day took place at the Estadio Nacional with the US taking on Nicaragua. The Stars and Stripes were dominant the whole game but Nicaragua's dominance was providing a large amount of frustration. It took until first half injury time for Quinn Sullivan to head them in front, but then it became much simpler. Kurt Thomas dragged Sullivan down in the box and Diego Luna scored the penalty before Sullivan tucked in a low cross for his second and the USA's third. A cross was deflected by Dylan Pineda into his own goal before Jalen Neal tucked in a rebound to give the US a 5-0 win. The Americans have looked brilliant this tournament but Costa Rica will be a tough challenge in the quarters.


    On the second day of competition Guatemala faced Canada in the first game at the Estadio Nacional. But nothing could separate the two sides after ninety minutes, with both teams missing a penalty in the first half but having precious little in terms of other chances. In extra-time, Canada did draw first blood, with Jeshua Urizar handling it in the box and Kamron Habibullah firing it into the bottom corner. In the 119th minute, Figo Montaro headed home, and although it was initially disallowed, VAR showed that it was onside and the game headed to penalties. With the first set of penalties converted by Gabriel Pellegrino and Carlos Santos, Kwasi Poku skied his penalty to give Guatemala the initiative, and Urizar did just that. Keesean Ferdinand levelled for Canada but Johnathan Franco put Guatemala back in front. Justin Smith's panenka then hit the bar to give Jefrey Bantes the chance to put Guatemala through, but he rolled it wide. Habibullah had to score to keep Canada in it, and did just that, so it was down to Omar Villagrán to avoid a sudden death. And he smashed it in to send Guatemala through to the quarterfinals.


    At the Estadio Olímpico, Haiti took on Jamaica in a bizarre game. Jahmari Clarke gave Jamaica the lead early on taking advantage of some eccentric goalkeeping and things got worse for Haiti when Fernando Ciceron's bizarre high-footed challenge on Chad James earned him a red card. A header from Steevenson Jeudy gave Haiti an equaliser and a lifeline, but when Duckens Pierre fouled Tyler Roberts that was enough for his second yellow card and Haiti were down to nine men. It was only a matter of time before Jamaica got the winner at that point and more unconvincing goalkeeping was to blame with Tarick Ximines poking home an open goal from a corner to secure a 2-1 win for the young Reggae Boyz.


    A fascinating encounter between El Salvador and the Dominican Republic took place at the Estadio Nacional. The qualifiers took an early lead when Israel Boatwrighit's cross went over the goalkeeper and found its way in, but El Salvador soon equalised when Mayer Gil converted a cross. However, Anyelo Gomez soon scored a rebound to put the Dominicans ahead again. El Salvador were struggling to get back into the game but when Keffler Martes brought down Jonathan Esquivel in the box Gil converted the VAR-awarded penalty to equalise, before Ronald Arévalo tapped home just before half-time to give El Salvador the lead for the first time. But just after half time, Ángel Montes De Oca managed to squeeze home a goal and it was 3-3. Boatwrighit went from hero to zero by handling a cross in the box and Esquivel converted the penalty to put El Salvador back in front, but Montes De Oca soon came forward and fired in an equaliser. And the nerves began to show when El Salvador's Alexander Romero brought down the rushing Edison Azcona in the box and Azcona got up and fired in the winner, and despite their best efforts and a disallowed goal, El Salvador had no response. The remarkable result: El Salvador 4-5 Dominican Republic, and the winners play Jamaica in the quarterfinal.


    In the final game at the Olímpico Mexico took on Puerto Rico in a one-sided affair. A lovely solo run from Fidel Ambriz gave El Tri a lead they would never relinquish, and Christian Torres fired off the post for two. Esteban Lozano made it three after half-time with a header, before another header from Salvador Mariscal made it four. The ball then broke kindly for Isaías Violante in the box and he took full advantage, before Jesús Hernández rounded out a 6-0 win with another headed effort. They play Guatemala in the quarters.


    The quarterfinals will take place on Tuesday at Estadio Morazán with the US against Costa Rica and Panama playing Honduras, and on Wednesday at Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano with the Dominican Republic taking on Jamaica and Guatemala facing Mexico. The winners will qualify for next years FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia, and will be one game away from the Olympics, with the losers having no recourse for the Paris Games.


    Patrick Green

    Writer, Totallympics News


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