Thursday, June 21, 2007

Semi Final Day in the Gold Cup

Semi Final Day in the Gold Cup.
The longest day of the year sees CONCACAF's final four square up as the North/Central American tournament nears its conclusion.

Hosts the United States play Canada while traditional giants Mexico tackle unfancied Guadeloupe for a place in the final at Soldier Field, Chicago, on Saturday.

As another Gold Cup field whittles down almost inevitably to another USA v Mexico final, the weaknesses of this region are again exposed, despite the three and a half places in the World Cup finals FIFA generously awards them.

Beyond the big two of CONCACAF, a revolving door of alternately Costa Rica, Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago have represented the region at the FIFA World Cup in recent years, and have invariably come home 'before the postcards'.

In this year's Gold Cup, 2006 FIFA World Cup heroes Trinidad & Tobago, who were the toast of the first round in holding Sweden to a draw in Dortmund, finished bottom of their group, tying Guatemala and losing to El Salvador and the United States.

Canada continue to show signs of reviving their soccer fortunes as they overcame Costa Rica to top their group to meet the hosts in Chicago today.

While the harsh Canadian climate militates against an outdoor field sport being played year round, a new Canadian professional team, Toronto FC, joined America's MLS this year, while the men's national team squad play their football in a dozen different countries, albeit not all of them like Tottenham Hotspur's Paul Stalteri, at the highest level.

Canada have shone only twice on the international stage, taking the gold medal for football at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis (only the US and Canada entered teams) and qualifying for the finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, whence they returned with three losses, but held France to a narrow 1-0 victory.

But all the factors point to another USA v Mexico clash and the tricolores will be eager to regain the traditional advantage they used to hold over their northern neighbours.

To Mexico's chagrin, the USA have won the majority of their clashes over the past few years, including a memorable 2-0 scalping in the 2002 World Cup second round in Korea.

Mexico still seem impregnable at the Azteca in Mexico City however, and will be hoping to turn Soldier Field into an expat-fuelled replica. Already, in a tournament which is drawing around the 20,000 mark for attendances, the tricolores have pulled crowds of 68,000 twice and one of over 70,000.

The Gold Cup winners will qualify for the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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