CONCACAF Gold Cup: Breaking down the quarter-finals
It's down to the final eight at the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The quarter-finals kick off on Saturday, with Canada taking on Honduras in Philadelphia in what promises to be a tight and entertaining affair.
Can Canada advance? Will the U.S. continue to roll along in the tournament? And what about Mexico and Costa Rica?
CBC Sports soccer commentators Nigel Reed and Jason de Vos offer their analysis and predictions.
Nigel Reed: After charting a successful course through the group stages, Canada now faces the acid test in the quarter-finals. Stephen Hart's team has looked solid, if unspectacular, and results thus far will breed much-needed confidence among his players.
After losing home and away to Honduras during World Cup qualifying, belief is the key ingredient for the Canadians in Philadelphia. Their possession-oriented, low-risk game plan has worked well to date, but Hart's men must believe they can upset before a ball is kicked.
Honduras will no doubt start as favourites and will also be high on confidence coming off a 4-0 drubbing of Grenada to qualify from Group B. That said, the Hondurans were pushed all the way by Haiti in their opener before falling to the U.S. Canada can win this with another gutsy, disciplined performance and a bit of luck in front of goal.
Prediction: Canada wins 2-1
Jason de Vos: At first glance, this looks like a comfortable game for Honduras. Having defeated Canada in both World Cup qualifying games last year, you could be forgiven for assuming that the same outcome will occur this time around.
However, I don't believe it is as clear-cut as that.
Honduras has chosen to field a Gold Cup squad missing its most influential players — Amado Guevara, David Suazo and Wilson Palacios are all absent. Just how much that will affect the Hondurans remains to be seen. The one thing that they can be assured of is that they will be facing a much more unified Canadian team this time around.
Stephen Hart has rallied the troops and has Canada playing the way it needs to in order to get results as a team. There is no individual star being relied on to score all the goals, although Ali Gerba is doing his best to make Toronto FC fans drool in anticipation of his arrival.
If Julian De Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson can dominate the midfield, I think the Canucks can make it through to the semifinals.
Prediction: Canada wins 2-1
Reed: The American juggernaut keeps rolling along and it's almost impossible to see anything other than a comfortable U.S. victory here. Unbeaten in group play, Bob Bradley's team is on the crest of a wave and aims to capture the Gold Cup again following its impressive recent run in the Confederations Cup.
It should be said this version of Team USA bears little resemblance to that which shocked the world in South Africa and only an injury-time strike from Stuart Holden spared their blushes against Haiti. Perhaps over-confidence is the team's only weakness, and the Panamanians will hope to exploit that flaw.
Panama concluded their group games with a morale-boosting 4-0 pounding of Nicaragua and know all the pressure will be on their opponents to deliver in front of the home fans. I believe Panama will rise to the occasion, but I also believe the Americans will be too strong — as they were at this same stage two years ago.
Prediction: United States wins 2-0
De Vos: Despite the United States fielding their B team for the Gold Cup, I still expect them to have more than enough to handle Panama.
They are strong at the back, with the likes of Chad Marshall and Michael Parkhurst providing size and savvy. They have creativity in midfield through Davy Arnaud and Kyle Beckerman, and pace and strength up front in Charlie Davies and Brian Ching. They will, however, be without a number of their players who have returned to their clubs in Europe, most notably Parkhurst and Davies.
You could argue that, despite missing a number of their top players, the Americans have one of the most balanced squads in the competition. The only area that concerns me is that they don't have as much experience as the squad that recently went to the Confederations Cup and came so close to pulling off a shock victory over Brazil in the final.
Panama, by contrast, have had mixed fortunes so far in the Gold Cup, losing their opener to Guadeloupe, drawing with group favourites Mexico before rounding out the first stage with a comfortable victory over Nicaragua.
If they can carry the momentum from that 4-0 victory into their game against the U.S., perhaps they can cause the upset of the quarter-finals and advance. It's possible, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Prediction: United States wins 2-0
Reed: Los Ticos were considered one of the pre-tournament favourites, but their performances so far have done little to justify those expectations. A narrow victory over Jamaica and a draw against Canada secured their passage to the quarter-finals, but I suspect there is more to come from a team ranked second only to the U.S. in CONCACAF.
Not for the first time tiny Guadeloupe has acquitted itself well at the Gold Cup. Successive victories over Panama and Nicaragua sealed their berth in the knockout stages before they let themselves down against Mexico. A pair of red cards accompanied a comprehensive defeat in which they mustered only a single shot on goal.
Clearly, Guadeloupe will have to adopt a more offensive approach against Costa Rica to have any hope of making further progress. That ploy, however, will leave gaps at the back and Los Ticos will be ready to make them pay.
Prediction: Costa Rica wins 3-1
De Vos: Guadeloupe has followed up its surprise 2007 Gold Cup semifinal run with another strong performance, but despite two victories in the group stage, I'm afraid this is where its tournament will end.
Costa Rica currently sits in first place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for a reason — they are a good team. They move the ball well and are fluid in attack. At the other end, they can be vicious in their tackling, but so far in this tournament they have only picked up a measly three yellow cards.
Disciplined defending from Los Ticos, accompanied by their usual attacking flair, should be enough to see them safely through to the semifinals.
Prediction: Costa Rica wins 2-0
Reed: The final matchup in the quarter-finals looks like a classic David versus Goliath encounter, but we all know how that story ends. The Mexicans, four-time Gold Cup champions and runners-up in 2007, are up against Haiti, who are only participating at this tournament as an alternate following Cuba's withdrawal.
Clearly there can be only one winner and by a substantial margin. Hold on a moment — isn't this 11 vs. 11, and isn't Haiti the team which came within seconds of beating the U.S. last week? Perhaps this is not so much of a no-contest contest as many believe.
If the underdog Haitians can rise to the occasion as they did against the Americans, they have every chance of giving Mexico a run for its money. I fear that is all it will be, given the huge support the Mexicans can expect in Texas. In truth it's likely to be more of a stroll for Mexico.
Predictions: Mexico wins 3-0
De Vos: To say that Mexico is a shadow of the team they used to be is an understatement. Gone are the days when "El Tri" struck fear into the hearts of all those in CONCACAF. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest that Mexico are now playing second fiddle to their neighbours to the north, the U.S.
Still, Mexico has the best Gold Cup record of any team in the competition, and they will hope to carry on their good fortune against Haiti.
The Haitians rely on speed and strength, and while their defending is not always easy on the eyes, it can be effective. Kicking lumps out of your opponent tends to deter them somewhat.
Despite their unconventional style, Haiti very nearly upset the U.S. in the group stage. If not for a Stuart Holden wonder strike in the dying moments, the Haitians would have pulled off the shock of the tournament so far.
There is always a surprise or two at this stage of the tournament, and this could be the game where we see one. Mexico has no confidence right now, and if Haiti can be physical, I fancy the Haitians have half a chance.
Prediction: Haiti wins 2-1