CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean Football Associations) teams are gaining much respect for the region with their positive play at the World Cup in Brazil. CONCACAF teams, long regarded as playing at a level well below the world powerhouses of Europe and South America, are shedding that inferior label and are now being seen as respectable competition to be reckoned with. Mexico, Costa Rica and the USA have won their opening games and improve their chances of advancing to the second round.
Evidence of the new respect for CONCACAF teams was echoed by Brazilian World Cup coach Luis Felipe Scolari in his comments after Mexico played Brazil to a goalless draw last Tuesday in the teams’ Group A match-up.
‘’In the end, the 0-0 mirrors what happened, it was a very hard-fought match,’’ said Scolari. ‘’The draw wasn’t a good result because a victory would have already allowed us to advance, but we need to be able to respect our opponent, which played very well.’’
Mexico held strong behind the outstanding play of goal keeper Guillermo Ochoa to come away with the draw against the Cup favorites. Ochoa, according to numerous reports, produced perhaps the performance of the tournament so far. Mexico came off its Group A opening 1-0 win over Cameroon and played a very confident and disciplined game against the extremely talented five-time World Cup champion.
El Tri did what most teams dare to – push forward, pressure Brazil and attack to the South Americans, and it worked. Fortune favors the brave! Mexico had as many chances as Brazil to win the contest; Héctor Herrera, Raul Jimenez and José Juan Vázquez had chances to put Mexico ahead. Brazil’s Neymar and Thiago Silva were on the verge of giving the hosts an advantage, but Ochoa was the difference. With only Croatia to play on Monday in the final group stage match, El Tri should advance to the second round. Brazil won its opener, 3-1 versus Croatia.
Another positive CONCACAF performance came from Costa Rica, which pulled off the biggest upset so far in the tournament. The Ticos defeated a strong Uruguay team, 3-1, last Sunday in its Group D opener. Twenty-one-year-old forward Joel Campbell emerged as one of the young talents of the tournament when his creative play led to Costa Rica’s first goal to tie the score, 1-1, in the second half.
The Ticos, playing together as a team, completely outplayed an experienced Uruguayan squad with long spells of possession and effective attacks on the opposition’s goal. Costa Rica came up with two more second half goals to seal one of their most important victories for the country. The CONCACAF team, though, has much work ahead as it must play four-time World Cup champion Italy and England to advance. If the Ticos continue their confident play, they could well advance to the second round for the first time since 1990.
The USA, not playing as confident as Costa Rica and Mexico, pulled off a gritty 2-1 victory over former World Cup nemesis Ghana. Despite the Americans’ quick start when Clint Dempsey scored 32 seconds into the game, the U. S. struggled from then on, failing to maintain possession for substantial periods. Ghana dominated and dictated play by having most of the possession, but was unable to score until the 82nd minute when forward Andre Ayew combined with Asamoah Gyan to tie the game.
Substitute defender John Brooks did what the Americans do best, headed in a corner kick to give the USA its first World Cup win over Ghana in three tries. The Americans, though, must improve to get positive results against Portugal on Sunday and Germany in its last group game, and it most likely will have to do this without forward Jozy Altidore, who pulled a hamstring muscle in the first half of the game; defender Matt Besler also is suffering from a strained hamstring muscle as well. The U.S. showed much determination but must improve its overall play for continued positive results.
In MLS play last weekend, the Portland Timbers recovered from a 2-0 deficit to tie host FC Dallas, 2-2, at Providence Park. Fabian Castillo and Blas Perez put Dallas ahead, 2-0, by half time, but the Timbers roared back in the second period behind goals from Modou Kah and Will Johnson to share the points. DC United’s revival continues as United demolished host Montreal Impact, 4-2, at Stade Saputo. United benefitted from a late Luis Silva’s hat trick The home team forged ahead, 2-1, after goals by Jack McInerney and Andrés Romero, but Nick DeLeon goal along with Silva’s effort gave DC the win and the first place position in the Eastern Conference.
New York City FC, the newest MLS franchise that will kick off next season in Yankee Stadium, signed Spain international forward David Villa, as its first player, to a three year contract. Villa had three very successful years at top club FC Barcelona, before moving to Athletico Madrid last season. Athletico reached the final of the 2014 European Champions League, only to lose to Real Madrid.