Monday 17 July 2017, 06:45

Big names set stage for knockout drama

The opening week of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup saw the bigger teams pushed hard, however there was little in the way of surprises once the dust settled as 12 became eight. Despite several nations sending relatively inexperienced squads, it was the heavyweight trio of Costa Rica, USA and Mexico who topped the three groups. Going home prior to the quarter-finals are Nicaragua and Curacao, as well as non-FIFA Member Associations Martinique and French Guiana.

Group A – Trio progress Costa Rica, Canada and Honduras all advanced, with the former pair undoubtedly buoyed by their showings ahead of the quarter-finals. Canada were granted one of three automatic berths for the tournament and responded with a 4-2 win over French Guiana, followed by a 1-1 draw against 2014 FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finalists Costa Rica. Indeed the Canucks were in touching distance of top spot until the final minutes of the group stage, only for Los Ticos to ultimately prevail with two wins and a draw.

Group B – Hosts edge top USA and Panama ended clear at the summit of a group in which no third-placed team advanced. Martinique were the unlucky team to go home, along with bottom side Nicaragua who failed to generate a point. After USA and Panama drew their opener, the pair claimed two wins each, but it was the host nation who edged first place by virtue of goals-scored.

Group C – El Tri youngsters do the job Mexico and Jamaica secured spots one and two, while El Salvador locked up the second and final ticket as best third-placed side. Reigning champions Mexico fielded a youthful side, one that was vastly changed from their recent FIFA Confederations Cup, with their only blemish being a scoreless draw against Jamaica. The results meant 2015 runners-up Jamaica are now unbeaten in seven of their last eight competition games, while El Salvador earned a quarter-final berth for the fifth time in ten attempts.

Headline acts Remember the name Alphonso Davies. Born in a Ghanaian refugee camp after his family fled civil war in Liberia, the winger is just 16, yet already he has chalked up some impressive milestones on the international stage, despite having become a Canadian citizen little more than a month ago. Since then, Davies has become the youngest Canadian international, while his double in the opener against French Guiana saw him become the youngest player to score for the Canucks, the youngest to score at the Gold Cup and first player born in the 2000s to score at a top level international tournament.

He might be unknown in most parts of the football world, but Kevin Parsemain is a headline name in Martinique. And the journeyman striker – he once had a stint in Congo DR - added another entry into his lengthy list of career highlights, despite Les Matinino exiting at the first hurdle. Parsemain, who is Martinique’s all-time top marksman, completed the group-stage as leading scorer alongside Davies with his three goals including a six-minute double in the 3-2 loss against USA.

While the lively Parsemain shone for his side, the match might be better remembered as a breakthrough moment on the international stage for USA prospect Jordan Morris. The 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year doubled his Stars and Stripes’ tally with a match-winning double.

The stat 7 – After a group-stage that generated a relatively modest 42 goals in 18 matches, it was hosts USA who top-scored with seven goals.

Quarter-final schedule Wednesday 19 July Costa Rica v Panama USA v El Salvador Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

Thursday 20 July Mexico v Honduras Jamaica v Canada University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale