In the first round of games in Group A of the 2017 CONCACAF Men's U-17 Championship, Haiti let three points slip against Curacao, controlling large segments of the match but failing to score or stop Curacao from scoring. Les Grenadiers were the best team in Caribbean qualifying, their loss to an opponent they'd beaten handily en route to this tournament was the first surprise of the CONCACAF U-17 Championship.
The second surprise of the competition arrived in Haiti's second game, on April 24. This time around, against home team Panama, it was Les Grenadiers who spent most of the game under heavy pressure, especially after the 33rd minute, when Widny Salomon picked up his second yellow card and was ordered off the field.
Down a man in a match they weren't expected to win in the first place, the Haitians knuckled down, rode their luck, and got a solid performance out of 'keeper Alan Jerome. The game ended 0-0.
The result was a particular surprise because, earlier the same day, Honduras had beaten Curacao, 3-0, in a match that followed a now familiar pattern. In the opening round of Group C matches, Jamaica had resisted the USA for 45 minutes, then gradually been undone in the second half, finally succumbing to a 5-0 loss. It was a similar story for Curacao against Honduras: the Caribbean team held out for the first half, but couldn't sustain the effort for the full 90 minutes.
In the 50th minute, Carlos Mejia saw his penalty for Honduras saved, but proved sufficiently composed to put in the rebound. Two minutes later, he scored again. Curacao at least kept the score down, but losing Ayodele Kwidama to a red card in the 76th minute didn't help the team's already-remote chance of getting back into the match. Mejia set up David Cardona for Honduras' third in injury time.
The Curacao-Honduras game followed the recognized pattern of some of these group-stage mismatches: a team can hold out for 45 minutes, but it's asking too much for luck, concentration and energy to last for the full 90. Until Les Grenadiers provided an example of how it can be done.
The results in Group A to date send all four teams to the final round of the group stage with a chance to advance to the Classification Stage - from which the CONCACAF representative at the U-17 World Cup will emerge.
The top two teams in the group will make it through to the next round. Panama is clear favorite to claim one of those spots - a win or tie in Los Canaleros' final group stage game, against Curacao, would clinch a top-two finish. Honduras is also favored to make the next round, and could make it with only a draw against Haiti on April 27. Curacao needs to beat Panama to advance, which seems unlikely based on its performance against Los Catrachos. Haiti needs a win over Honduras and a little help - either Panama to beat Curacao, or for a Curacao win to help Les Grenadiers overturn Panama's current goal difference advantage.
Long-shots notwithstanding. the question of Group A's qualifiers for the Classification Stage will go down to the last round of matches, which bodes well for the commitment and motivation of all teams involved in those games.