The final round of games in the Qualifying Stage of the 2018 CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship did not produce unexpected results: the teams most would have predicted would make it through to the final of this tournament are going to be in the final of this tournament. But the finalists’ last matches of the Qualifying Stage didn’t quite play out as expected, even if the outcomes were not too surprising.
Group G: USA 1-0 Honduras
Not nearly as polished a performance as the USA has delivered previously in this tournament, but the young Americans won’t care too much - they are on their way to the final.
The USA dominated possession and shot statistics, but Ayo Akinola’s 51st-minute strike - very nearly saved - was the only goal of the game.
This was expected to be the USA’s most testing match of the tournament to date, but the narrow scoreline had more to do with American misfires in front of goal than a particularly stubborn Honduras.
Still every reason to regard the US U-20 MNT as the favorite to win this championship, because if this game proved anything, it proved that even on a bad day, this team is too good for its opponent at this tournament.
Group H: Mexico 2-2 Panama
At half-time, Panama looked to be deservedly cruising to the final, thanks to two goals from Ernesto Walker.
But a 53rd-minute penalty - converted by Daniel Lopez - got Mexico back into the game. El Tri found an equalizer through Diego Hernandez in the 61st minute. Los Canaleros very nearly had the last laugh, clanging a shot off the post at the death, but Mexico survived to claim top spot in the group and a place in the final by just about the narrowest margin: winning the fair play points tiebreaker.
A difficult result to swallow for Panama, who contrived to allow a team that registered just one shot on target to score two goals. A fortunate result for Mexico, now heading into a CONCACAF Men’s U-20 Championship Final in the unfamiliar role of underdog.