July 1 – Cuba vs Guadeloupe was the warm-up for the night’s main event. But at 97 degrees at kick off, it could not have been much hotter.
And what a warm-up Cuba and Guadeloupe delivered. If it wasn’t a classic of football for the purist it delivered pretty much everything else from missed chances to crunching challenges. You really don’t get much more football fun than this. And all driven to a crescendo by Guatemalan fans who filled the stadium over the course of the game in preparation for their own contest.
Guadeloupe came into the game after a draw with Canada in Toronto, a game they could have won. A win would keep them in the hunt for a quarter final spot. Cuba lost by a goal to Guatemala, they had also lost four players from their squad who had defected since arriving in the US. They needed any points they could get.
Guadeloupe opened with pressure, pushing high and not giving the Cubans time to settle on the ball. On two minutes the Guadeloupe pressure forced a mistake and Thierry Ambrose hit the ball over the bar.
Cuba on the counter attack could have had a goal of their own but Yasnier Matos fired over.
Guadeloupe’s Ambrose and Matthias Phaeton were a powerful presence in the Shell Energy Stadium, linking well and attacking from deep. On 11 minutes Phaeton hammered the ball into the side netting.
A minute later he had his first goal, hitting the ball from outside the box into Raiko Arozarena’s top right hand corner.
Cuba started to work themselves into the game with Luis Paradela in midfield particularly busy, pushing and prodding both the ball and his teammates. Aricheel Hernandez should have equalised on 20 minutes but somehow only managed to hit Goudeloupe keeper Davey Rouyard’s body.
As Cuba built a passage of play so the Guatemala support that was filling the stadium started to get behind them, pushing for a Cuban equaliser and drop from three points to one in the group table. On 38 minutes it looked they might have that equaliser but VAR stepped in to strike it off.
Then disaster struck for Cuba. Ange Plumain, on as a sub, collected the ball on the edge of the box on a Guadeloupe counter attack and fired home, 2-0. It was 3-0 two minutes later. Ambrose on the counter attack pulled the ball across the edge of box to Phaeton who fired in his second of the game.
The score didn’t reflect the competitiveness of what had been a great half of fun football from by both sides.
But this is the Gold Cup and the goal difference could prove crucial. Cuba started the second period brightly but were soon 4-0 after a piece of magic. Guadeloupe defender Antony Baron carried the ball into the box, did a Maradona on his marker and calmy slid the ball home – special, brilliant, joyful, check it out on Youtube.
Even so Cuba were still in the fight and on 58 minutes Eduardo Hernandez was pulled down driving into the box. Immediately cries of ‘Cuba, Cuba’ rippled round the stadium from the gathering Guate masses. After a lengthy delay captain Aricheel Hernandez scored from the spot. It was no more than they deserved.
With Phaeton and Ambrose off, Cuba pushed on, Paradela hit a free kick on the top of the box over – he should have done better.
On 76 minutes Cuba looked to have their second when Daniel Diaz tapped after Rouyard failed to clear. Spoil sport VAR ruled it offside.
With Guatemala’s fans now filling the stadium the warm up was coming close to an end but their intensity was driving the stadium to boiling point. With three minutes to go a straight red was given to Aldair Ruiz – if anything it was a testament to the competitiveness of both teams to the end.
The referee blew full time inexplicably early but it didn’t really matter. The stadium was already filling with the anticipation of Guatemala vs Canada.
Guadeloupe now face Guatemala on July 4. Cuba now face Canada.
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