It was a double-delight for the USA and the Dominican Republic on Friday as the two sides stormed into the final of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship 2022, thereby qualifying for the Paris 2024 Olympics men’s football tournament.
While the Dominican Republic came from two goals behind to beat Guatemala 2(4)-2(2) on penalties to qualify for their maiden Summer Games, the USA ensured their first Olympic appearance since Beijing 2008 with a comfortable 3-0 win over hosts Honduras.
All four semi-finalists had already booked a berth in the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023 in Indonesia earlier.
Dominican Republic overcome two-goal deficit to qualify for maiden Olympics
In the first semi-final of the day at the Estadio Morazan in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a spirited Dominican Republic side ousted Guatemala in the dreaded penalty shootout 4-2 after the score stood level at 2-2 following the regulation 90 minutes and extra time.
After a scrappy start to the match, it was Guatemala who struck first through Arquimides Ordonez in the 23rd minute. The Guatemalan attacker leapt the highest to head home after the ball was sent into the danger zone following a short corner.
Six minutes later, Ordonez was involved again in a crucial bit of play. Looking for his fifth goal of the competition, Guatemala’s No. 10, cut in from the left and tried to toe-poke the ball into a dangerous area inside the six-yard box.
An unfortunate deflection from Dominican defender Sebastian Manon left goalkeeper Xavier Valdez stranded as the ball trickled into the net.
Down 2-0 at half-time, Mariano Perez’s Dominican Republic side pressed high for a way back into the contest but were repelled time and again by the Guatemalan defence.
In need of inspiration after repeated frustrations in the final third, Dominican Republic finally found their goal in the 62nd minute, courtesy captain Edison Azcona. The midfielder finally broke the Guatemala offside trap and fired home to make it 2-1.
Two minutes later, substitute Guillermo de Pena made it 2-2 after burying a low shot in from the edge of the box. The scoreline didn’t change in the regulation 90 minutes, nor in extra time, invoking the dreaded penalty shootout.
Guatemala, having overcome Canada and pre-tournament favourites Mexico through penalties in the round of 16 and quarter-finals, respectively, might have seemed the favourites to do it a third time.
However, Rafael Loredo’s side was missing goalkeeper Jose Moreno, who played a starring role in both the knockout penalty wins, for the semis. It eventually proved detrimental to the Guatemalans as they lost the shootout 4-2.
USA back in Olympic men’s football after 16 years
The second semi-final between two-time defending champions USA and hosts Honduras was a far simpler affair.
The Michael Varas-coached USA ran away with a 3-0 win courtesy first-half goals from Paxten Aaronson (3’), Alejandro Alvarado Jr. (22’) and Quinn Sullivan (43’).
Heading into the match, Honduras had won all their matches in the competition but after Aaronson gave the Americans an early lead, it was largely one-way traffic.
With Marco Aceituno, the tournament top scorer with six goals, bottled up by the American defence led by captain Daniel Edelman, Honduras had little to offer in the attacking third.
Despite the hosts trying to take the initiative after the restart, USA looked fairly comfortable sitting back and picking out counter-attacking opportunities.
The best opportunity of the second half, in fact, fell to the USA from a set piece. Brandan Craig’s swerving attempt, however, came off the post.
Honduras were reduced to 10 men late in the game after Jefryn Macías was shown a red card.
Paris 2024 will be the US men’s team’s 15th Olympic appearance, but the first in 16 years. USA’s best performance at the Summer Games was at Sydney 2000, where they finished fourth.
The CONCACAF U-20 Championship 2022 final between the USA and the Dominican Republic will be played on July 3.