Wednesday, March 27, 2013

World Cup Qualifiers: U.S., Argentina Gain Golden Point on the Road

There is a sports adage that claims that the tie games are like kissing your sister.  But on Tuesday the U.S. and Argentine soccer teams earned valuable ties on the road at their respective World Cup qualifiers. 

For only the second time in World Cup qualifying history the U.S. was able to escape Mexico with a scoreless draw.  The 0-0 result occurred nearly one year after the U.S. won 1-0 at the imposing confines of Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca for the first time.

The Mexican squad outshot their cross-border visitors by a 17-1 margin and controlled most of the possession throughout the ninety minutes of play.  They had plenty of set pieces including fourteen corner kicks but they could not convert against an inexperienced but stingy U.S. backline.

Mexico was hurt by two clear fouls in the penalty box that were not called by referee Walter Lopez.  By the end of the match Mexican fans were reportedly irate at Lopez and launched insults calling for Mexican Coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre to be fired.

"That's not in our hands and if it's not in our hands, we can't give it importance. Nor can we use it as an excuse," said De la Torre regarding the officiating.

“We leave with a bitter taste. … We must keep calm and carry on,” Mexican star striker Javier Hernández reportedly said after the game.  “Chicharito” will likely be upset at his own performance that included missing a clear opportunity in the first half where he mishit a shot while he was about two yards in front of the goal.

Two of the U.S. players that played key roles in yesterday’s game were Mexican-Americans Hérculez Gómez and Omar Gonzalez.  Though he had few touches of the ball, Gómez’ levelheadedness amidst the media frenzy in the days before the game seemed to have an effect on his mostly disciplined teammates at the Azteca.

Gómez teamed up with fellow rookie Matt Besler in the central midfield and stymied numerous attacks by El Tri.  The Gómez-Besler tandem received high praise from coaches and fellow players like midfielder Michael Bradley:

"I thought they both did really well, they are two guys that we have a lot of confidence in. Going forward they are going to be really important for us.
"With the opportunity to play in a game like this, the experience that you get, the confidence you can take away, they can both walk away feeling really proud of what they gave.
"They can walk away from here feeling that if they continue to improve and show their quality they are going to be two very important guys for us".
La Paz, Bolivia was the site of one of the worst defeats in Argentine soccer when the locals blitzed their Southern Cone opponents 6-1 at a 2009 World Cup qualifier.  Four years later los albicelestes were looking for a measure of revenge, which they achieved yesterday in a hard-fought 1-1 draw.

Initially the high altitude of playing 12,000 feet above sea levels got to the Argentinians after they fell to an early 1-0 deficit.  As the first half came to a close, however, Clemente Rodriguez’ launched an accurate center to Ever Banega who then headed the equalizer into the Bolivian net.

The thin air at the Estadio Hernando Siles took its toll on several Argentine players including Angel Di Maria who received oxygen while being treated for an injury and Lionel Messi who vomited on the field.  Yet it was Messi who nearly won the game in the 84th minute though Bolivia keeper Sergio Galarza stonewalled his breakaway opportunity.

The U.S. and Argentina returned home after making it through two tough ties in difficult venues on the road.  Their luck was not shared by other visiting teams in the Americas such as Colombia who continued their seventeen-year winless streak in Venezuela.  Meanwhile, controversial Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez could be suspended after he punched a rival Chilean player in the face in Uruguay’s 2-0 defeat in Santiago.

Panama leads a very tight CONCACAF hexagonal group with only three points separating first and last place.

Argentina (24 points), Ecuador (20) and Colombia (19) are in the top three in the South American group standings while Chile (15), Venezuela (15), Uruguay (13) and Peru (11) continue to slug it out for the remaining 1.5 qualifying spots.

Video Source– YouTube via U.S. Soccer

Online Sources – Too many to list!

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