Mexico, Honduras complete Men’s Olympic Football Tournament field

Mexico and Honduras booked the last two tickets to the Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) Men's Olympic Football Tournament with wins in Sunday's semifinals of the CONCACAF qualifiers in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

For Mexico – who won gold at London 2012 – Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) will be a third straight appearance at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. And for the Hondurans, who finished just off the podium four years ago at Rio 2016, the Games in Japan will be their fourth consecutive appearance at the competition -- and their fifth overall.

Second half surge sees Mexico sink Canada

The mighty Mexicans, undefeated in their three group games, found themselves in a tough fight against an eager Canada outfit early on in their semifinal on Sunday.

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The hosts, led by the outstanding striker Uriel Antuna, were unable to get much going in attack in the first 45 minutes and the Canadians, with speed to burn on the flanks, were happy to wait for opportunities on the counter-attack.

It was a fascinating clash of styles and it led to a first-half stalemate with neither side creating more than half-chances to open the scoring.

The second period, however, was a different affair as Mexico sprang to life. Canadian goalkeeper James Pantemis’ poor ball out from his own area in the 58th minute was picked off by Carlos Alberto Rodríguez, who laid on a sly diagonal ball for Antuna, streaking into the box. The Chivas Guadalajara striker made no mistake in slotting home his third goal of the CONCACAF preliminary competition.

Mexico continued to pour on the pressure after breaking the deadlock. And in the 65th minute, Johan Vásquez headed off the post from a pinpoint cross from the left. Luckily for the UNAM Pumas centre-back, the ball rebounded off a Canadian defender and right into his path so he could tap into an open goal and double El Tri’s lead.

In the end, the two goals were all the Mexicans would need. The 2-0 victory means they head into the regional final on Tuesday with four wins from four games and having only conceded one goal in the competition.

“At the halftime we refocused and calmed ourselves down,” said Mexico's head coach, Jaime ‘Jimmy’ Lozano, after the game. “In the end we were able to stay focused and continue to play the way we wanted to play. And the pressure we applied paid off.”

Hondurans end USA dream

In the day’s first game, Honduras booked a place in Tokyo with a convincing 2-1 win over the United States, who haven’t reached the men’s side of Olympic Football since Beijing 2008.

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The first half of the day’s first game was a cagey affair at the Jalisco Stadium with neither Honduras nor the United States committing too much into attack in the high temperatures and altitude of Guadalajara. Chances on goal were few and far between until the fourth minute of stoppage time when Honduras finally broke the deadlock.

A long ball from midfield was nodded down in the USA penalty area and Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. – who plays his club football in the United States – bundled the ball over the line and past American goalkeeper David Ochoa in the 49th minute to send the Hondurans into the halftime break with a slim lead.

USA goalkeeper, Ochoa, was again at the heart of a decisive action just a minute into the second half. A casual clearance from the Real Salt Lake net-minder – while under very little pressure – bounced back off the toe of Luis Enrique Palma and into the American net to give the Hondurans a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead.

While it looked like Team USA might be heading for a heavy defeat, their captain and emotional leader Jackson Yueill – of MLS club side San Jose Earthquakes – clawed a goal back in the 52nd minute. Scorer of the USA’s first goal of these Olympic qualifiers, Yueill collected the ball deep in midfield and fired a wicked right-footed scorcher from distance that nestled in the top corner of the Honduran net to give the USA reason to believe.

But it wasn’t enough to spark a revival. The scoreline remained 2-1 up to the final whistle as the Hondurans celebrated their victory and their place in yet another Men’s Olympic Football Tournament.

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

“We have a feeling of great happiness for having reached our first objective of qualifying for the Olympics,” said Honduras coach Miguel Falero after the game. “I have to thank my players for all of the effort and work they put in on the pitch throughout our games. We have every reason to feel a great pride in this group of players.

Mexico and Honduras will now meet in the final of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament on Tuesday at the Estadio Akron in Zapopan. Regardless of the winner of that game, both can begin to dream of the Olympic journey ahead as they officially round out the field of 16 nations who will compete for gold this summer in and around Tokyo.

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