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2011 CONCACAF U-17 Championship 

Canada, Jamaica, USA, and Panama clinch U-17 World Cup berths

 

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – Panama, USA, Canada and host Jamaica advanced to the semi final of the North, Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) U-17 Championships after beating Costa Rica, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and

Honduras respectively.

The wins automatically qualified the semi finalists for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico, and for most of the folks down here there seemed to be a method to the madness in the results at this years U-17 tournament. To them, Canada, Panama, and Jamaica have removed the CONCACAF status quo where some teams had grown accustomed to qualifying to the FIFA tournaments with little or no resistance from their competition.

 

Panama advanced to the semi finals of the CONCACAF Championship and will attend its first U-17 World Cup after defeating Costa Rica 1-0 at Catherine Hall Stadium. It was the opening quarter final match of a double header.

The match-up on the schedule showed Panama, the second place finisher of Group B against Costa Rica the Group A winner.

 

Panama finished ahead of Cuba on goal difference after both teams completed their schedule with one point each after losing to USA 1-0 and 3-1 respectively


Panama on the other hand always plays an up tempo brand of football with precise execution. Combined with what could have been Costa Rica’s lack of energy in the scorching sun, Panama started the game fast which seemed to take Costa Rica out of their element.

 

Panama kept up the tempo and maintained territorial advantage throughout the match. But Panama counter attack strategy seemed to have limited Costa Rica’s effectiveness and positional play.

Panama defense did a good job on El Ticos striker John Ruiz, who was having his share of problems getting around the central back and Panama's captain Roberto Chen and the rest of the Panama defense. The few balls that got through the Panama defense were saved by Panama goalkeeper Ivan Picart.  

 

Heading into the quarter final match it was common knowledge that Costa Rica had the best offensive player in #9 striker John Ruiz. He was having  an MVP like tournament.  

 

Costa Rica elimination at the quarter final stage may have been a surprise to some, but El Ticos coach Luis Arnaez must admit that there were warning signs along the way based on his team's defensive flaws.

 

Costa Rica won their opening match 3-1 over Haiti in a game which they only displayed their potent offense. In their second match against El Salvador, Costa Rica defense struggled to hold on to their lead in a game they eventually won 3-2 after El Salvador equalized twice. 

 

John Ruiz scored a hat trick in that game and the expiration of regulation time helped Costa Rica secured its third lead of the match. In the the quarter final against Panama, Costa Rica was finally paying more attention to its defensive coverage but it affected Ruiz and the team offense in a negative way in a losing cause.

 

It is unfortunate that a player of Ruiz caliber will not get the opportunity to strut his stuff in front of international scouts and coaches at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico this summer but football/soccer is a team sport and those are the breaks.

 

But on the flipside, Panama's forward Alfredo Stevens will be visible at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico after coming out as the hero of the Panama-Costa Rica match. Stevens lone goal in the 76th minute, gave Panama coach Jorge Dely Valdes’s (former playing idol) side its first ever FIFA U-17 World Cup in their history. The win also halted Costa Rica's attempt of attending its sixth consecutive U-17 FIFA World Cup.

 

It is important to note that Panama squeaked into the quarter finals with a one point total after losing to the USA and drawing 0-0 with Cuba in the group stage. But after watching the team, they played an inspired brand with very quick and skillful execution. 

"This is a big moment for Panama and I am proud of my players," said coach Dely Valdes. "Now we have to focus ...and see what we can do."

USA continued it string of consecutive FIFA U-17 World Cup appearances by beating El Salvador 3-2 in overtime in the second game of the first day of the quarter final double headers.

 

USA was cautious, since they were aware that Panama had upset Costa Rica in the earlier match.

 

The stage was set to expect the unexpected and another upset seemed very likely as the tournament favorite struggled to gain the upper hand on El Salvador.

 

It was a tit for tat affair, as Alejandro Guido’s gave USA the best of starts with a 1-0 score in the fourth-minute of play. But Jose Pena had plans of his own, and pulled one back five minutes later to bring El Salvador even at one apiece. With neither team giving the other an inch, maintaining ones ground seemed primary and scoring became a distant preposition as the game progressed.

 

The game went into overtime tied 1-1 and the physical play continued. That scenario certainly favored USA, but El Salvador was also prepared. Needless to say, Jamaican referee Valdin Legister was also hanging tough and ejected three players in the final seven minutes of play.

 

But that was not before Marc Pelosi set up Mario Rodriguez in the 95th minute to give USA a 2-1 lead.  Pelosi finished the job by scoring a goal of his own on a fine piece of offensive work by Guido.

 

Trailing USA 3-1, Salvadoran ace Gerardo Iraheta scored from the spot to make it 3-2 in the dying minutes, but it was much too late for El Salvador to spring a come back on a USA defense which tightened as time expired.

 

With the win USA advanced to the semi final, and with it secured its 14th straight trip to the FIFA U-17 World Cup. With those numbers it became crystal clear that all roads to the CONCACAF U-17 Championship title had to go through the United States.

 

While, not overly impressed with USA play up to the quarter final stage, the United States was undoubtedly the toughest team both mentally and physically in the tournament. Both attributes were very evident in their 3-2 quarter final win against a quick and very skillful El Salvador team.

 

USA was made to work against El Salvador and very hard, but with their record as the only team ever to qualify for every FIFA U-17 World Cup speaks volumes about USA soccer program. Hence, it made sense that if any team wanted to win the CONCACAF championship they had to go through USA.

 

The immediate team in USA path was the winner of the Jamaica-Honduras semi final which Jamaica won 2-0. But Jamaica proved to be no match for the in stride Americans in the semi finals and lost by the same 2-0 score at Catherine Hall Stadium in the Parish of St James before a disappointed home crowd.

 

Trinidad and Tobago unfortunately, had to face Canada'S well oiled U-17 machine in their quarter final match. It was also at a time when it seems like Trinidad and Tobago Young Soca Warriors were still trying to find their game.

 

T&T U-17 did not help their cause against Canada when they allowed a goal as early as the 15th minute to a team that had not conceded a goal to that point in the tournament. However, it was also common knowledge that the young Soca Warriors were resilient and could not be counted out of any contest.

 

They had found different ways to score and/or win games during the tournament and though the team was not highly ranked, they could not be under-rated. T&T lost a tie breaker draw to Jamaica for the group title.

At the time both Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica were assured of a spot into the quarter final but the tiebreaker draw was needed to separate the teams.

 

Everyone who watched the tournament to that point new that the draw was as important as a game since the loser had to play Canada and the Canucks was firing on all cylinders after demolishing Barbados 8-0 in their opening match.

 

T&T finished tied with Jamaica on 4 points each with a 1-0-1 record to add to their plus-1 goal difference from three goals scored in their two matches after allowing two from their thrilling 2-2 head to head tie with Jamaica.

 

As a result of the draw the Young Reggae Boyz got what many of its fans felt was a more favorable match up against Honduras for their quarter final match while T&T was stuck between a rock and a hard place of having to get pass Canada to qualify for the U-17 World Cup.

 

Although anything can happen in the competitive world of sports, the Young Warriors had to be cautiously optimistic, since their only decent performance was in the second half of their 2-2 draw with Jamaica.

In their game against Jamaica, T&T U-17 came alive to take a 2-1 lead, after trailing 1-0 at the half. But put on a horrendous display in their second match against Guatemala; a game they won 1-0 and advanced to the quarter finals.

 

It was an ugly win but a win is a win and it allowed T&T to advance to the next round. For T&T coach Shawn Cooper, his team win over Guatemala may have meant advancement, but it was their first and last step towards the U-17 World Cup.

 

T&T's U-17 miraculous win against Guatemala was unbelievable. The goal was scored just as the fourth official and the PA system announced that it wase 3 minutes left of injury time. T&T goal was scored by Adan Noel from a rebound off his own free kick. It was a dagger straight to the hearts of the  Guatemala fans.

 

To explain the situation is to look at it both ways. For the heartbroken Guatemala supporters and their team, the end did not justify the means and was certainly not in accordance with the run of play in which Guatemala totally dominated.

 

For Trinidad and Tobago youngsters they deserved a lot of credit for their never say die spirit when things weren’t going well. The play which Guatemala would like to forget occurred when T&T second half substitute Isaih Noreiga managed to draw a foul out of nowhere and from a well taken shot just outside Guatemala’s penalty area that created T&T much needed goal.

 

The man of the match and a stand out at the tournament was T&T goalkeeper Quesi Weston. He was head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates in terms of consistency and he was always in the right position for oncoming shots.  

 

The entire Jamaica team watched the T&T-Guatemala game from the bleacher and since they were convinced that Canada was going to win its group, the battle for first place in Group C amongst Guatemala, T&T and Jamaica intensified.

 

So much so that Jamaica fans were supporting Canada in their game against Honduras, feeling pretty confident that the Young Reggae Boyz would have been victorious against Guatemala to secure first place and avoid meeting Canada in their quarter final match up.

 

With "Let the truth be told" as one of the popular lines used by the play by play announcers down here in Jamaica, the truth is, Canada’s 8-0 opening game rout over Barbados did send a warning to the other teams in the tournament.

 

Canada U-17 qualified for the 2011 World Cup Mexico after defeating Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 on first half goals by Christopher Nanco and Kevin Aleman. The pivotal win came on the second day of the quarter finals when no one knew what to expect of their opponent Trinidad and Tobago.

 

T&T was not at the top of their game but showed that they can win the big games by any means necessary. Unfortunately for the Young Soca Warriors, the match was play at a time when most teams would have done their best to avoid playing against Canada or USA and they lost the draw that would have done just that.

 

Canada had all but clinched a spot into the quarter finals of the U-17 Tournament by demolishing Barbados 8-0 in its opening group match, and playing Honduras to a goalless draw in its second match. With the cross over of the groups for the quarter finals and its 8-goal offensive output, Canada was the immediate interest of the advancing teams and was also gaining supporters in Jamaica.

 

Canada had the support of a big Canadian contingent of Maple Leaf fans who played a major role in its quarter final match against Trinidad and Tobago  since the Young Soca Warriors were supported by some of the locals as part of the Caribbean neighborhood watch.

 

The Canadian supporters were loud in their support and as the game progressed T&T (Jamaican) supporters jumped off the bandwagon when it was crystal clear that the Young Soca Warriors did not have what it took to beat Canada on that day.

 

The Canucks offensive tandem of Christopher Nanco and Kevin Aleman showed Canada’s intentions from the opening whistle. Nanco took the T&T defenders on regular runs down the right flank, while Aleman attacked the heart of the T&T defense with penetrating solo runs.

 

It was in this spell that Nanco missed an inside of the foot volley from within the six yard box while alone at the last post, and was shocked that his shot sailed over the crossbar. But Nanco made amends in the 15th minute when he scored from almost the same position, after he came in late on another cross that T&T defenders lost in flight.

 

Keven Aleman doubled Canada's lead just five minutes later after drifting inside from the right to unleash a bullet with his signature left foot. The shot crashed into the roof of the net giving goalkeeper Quesi Weston no chance.

 

That was all she wrote for T&T U-17, as they could not muster any tangible offense for the remainder of the first half. The most noticeable difference in the teams was Canada's movement off the ball as a team. Also the back four did extremely well in covering for each other. 

 

Trinidad and Tobago U-17 played a better second half, but their lack of patience and appreciation for ball possession hindered the young Warriors from gaining any rhythm or enetration to reduce Canada’s lead. 

 

Canada won the match 2-0 and goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau finished with another clean sheet for the tournament. Crepeau was amongst the best goalkeepers along with T&T and USA's goalkeeper Fernando Pina  

 

Canada’s coach Sean Fleming has to be proud of the way his goalkeeper and players are performing defensively thus far. And he certainly should have no qualms about the way the schedule has unfolded either.

Looking ahead to Canada’s semi final match-up with Panama, coach Fleming and his staff should be leery that Panama is arguably the quickest team in the tournament and will be a stiffer test defensively.

 

But with a World Cup berth secured, Coach Fleming might just enjoy the ride until it stops. The fact that Canada’s 8-0 win was played on a late change of venue from the originally schedule Catherine Hall Stadium, to Jarrett Park Stadium speaks volumes for Canada's mental preparation.

 

It was also a game in which assistant coach Patrick Tobo was in charge of the Canada U-17 team since coach Fleming was serving a game suspension. It was that decisive knock out punch against Barbados that started the ball rolling in Canada’s favour.

The lopsided win came at a time when no team stood out with their play when everyone watched Canada score goal after goal from a patient and well orchestrated ball possession game, combined with text book defending and clinical finishes.

 

Canada's big win was the topic of conversation in Jamaica since it place the young Reggae Boyz in what was perceived as harms way. Canada was guaranteed a spot in the quarter finals and would have been up against a team from Group C, which comprised of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guatemala

 

 “I am so happy for the players and all their families,” said Coach Fleming after the 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, for Canada to return to the FIFA U-17 finals in its first appearance since 1995.

 

Jamaica defeated Honduras 2-0 in the quarter finals of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship to return to the Youth World Cup for the second time. Jason Wright brace scored on both sides of the half was the story of a Jamaica team that improved with every match.

 

The Young Reggae Boyz improvement also coincided with the increase in the turn out for their games. It  allowed Jamaica U-17 to rise to the occasion and take care of business. The Young Reggae Boyz advanced to the quarter finals after beating Guatemala 1-0 in its last group match.

 

Filter in a favorable tie breaker draw over Trinidad and Tobago to break the Group C deadlock and Jamaica was on its way. Having to face Honduras with the home crowd advantage was also looming large for Jamaica as their youngsters began to believe that anything was possible.

 

Jamaica was definitely the dark horse in the race for the Championship title, with no pun intended, but the Young Reggae Boyz would have had to improve on their team chemistry which showed on their runs off the ball.

 

The Young Boyz defense still needs some work but they are getting consistent play from the left wing back position and their captain Omar Holness in the midfield. With the timely scoring from Wright, I would venture to say that Jamaica still needs a better performances from other positions to be a real force.

 

Pint size #19 Cardell Benbo has played well and excites the crowd off the bench. But with exception of captain Holness, he seems to be the only real creator of scoring opportunities in the midfield. Coach Wendell Downswell may have to come up with a tactical game plan to break down the tougher defenses in moving forward.

 

The Young Reggae Boyz may have given everything they had against Honduras in the quarter finals and although they held serve 2-1 to become CONCACAF’s fourth and final entry to the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico, they will definitely be tested by USA in the semi final.

 

The heat may not be much of a factor in the semi final as the games are being played later in the day at 4pm and 7 Pm with Jamaica playing the later game. Prior to the new game times the matches were played in scorching temperatures at midday and 3PM and it was taking its toll on some of the teams.

 

With the semi finalists already assured of a World Cup berth, motivation may not be as big a factor as much as physical endurance and team chemistry will. The 12th man advantage will be ever so important since the youths could be running on fumes in the later minutes.

 

 I am also experiencing the second coming of South Africa’s Vuvuzela but the harmonies here are not quite like South Africa. However,  the decibels at  Catherine Hall Stadium are getting there whenever Jamaica Young Reggae Boyz is on the attack. 

 

There is a noticeable increase in the number of Canada supporter here in Montego Bay for the quarter final matches but nothing compared to Jamaica U-17 home crowd who anticipated Jamaica booking a spot to its second Junior World Cup finals. Jamaica only other U-17 appearance was in 1999 when the team qualified in Montego Bay.

 

 Jason Wright had the Catherine Hall stadium in a frenzy by accounting for two goals in both sides of the half to take Jamaica to the 2011 FIFA World Cup Mexico and its second from its 2-1 victory  over Honduras.

It was not all easy though, as Honduras made it close with a beauty of a header from Bryan Rochez in the 65th minute. The goal came from a left side cross when Jamaica seemed to be was losing momentum.

 

The game got more nerve racking for Jamaica supporters when Honduras missed two glorious scoring chances from in close that would have sent the match into overtime. But a third goal was not needed, as Jamaica held on for the 2-1 win.

 

While Honduras was a better team they were not playing that much better than Jamaica to win, when you figure in the home crowd advantage.  Jamaica coach Wendell Downswell should enjoying the moment, but for the reality of World Cup Mexico, he has to cultivate his players talent into a team.

 

Also in his roster is Toronto's native Shawn Chaud Lawson (son of former Jamaica national and Magic Soccer Club of Toronto star player, Jimmy Lawson). Shawn has started two of the three Jamaica U-17 matches thus far including the quarter final match. 

 

Coach Downswell paid tribute to his players for their efforts and the crowd for their support which was the edge that gave Jamaica its second U-17 World Cup since 1999.

 

 "Full marks to the youngsters as they fought the whole way…..”I love these fans here and they supported us in a great way for the whole tournament. We just need to focus now on getting better and better as a team.” coach Downswell concluded. 

 

As it stands now, Jamaica will be facing the defending champion USA in their semi final match, while Canada faces Panama in the earlier game of the double header. Jamaica has increased their level of intensity against Honduras, and will need a super effort to beat USA.

 

Jamaica and USA has played two friendly matches in preparation for the U-17 tournament in which a bench clearing incident was very much a part of the second match highlight. Hopefully cooler heads prevail in what is expected to be the most exciting game of the tournament.

 Stay Tune for more pictures and Updates

 

                       

                        

 

 

 
 

 

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