USA will enter a FIFA U-20 World Cup as CONCACAF champions for the first time in history after their winning campaign at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship Costa Rica 2017. The Stars and Stripes will be joined in Korea Republic by tournament runners-up Honduras, dethroned continental champions Mexico and tournament hosts Costa Rica.
The Stars and Stripes’ wait for a continental U-20 title is over in its fifth appearances in the final, and they were made to earn it in the most dramatic of circumstances: from the penalty spot. The final between Honduras and USA at the Estadio Nacional finished goalless after 90 minutes before the two sides went head-to-head in a shootout. Both sides started strongly until Rembrandt Flores skied his shot over the bar, leaving Danny Acosta to make no mistake with his opportunity, calmly slotting in a shot to the lower left corner which saw USA lift the title for the first time.
The Stars and Stripes were led by captain Erik Palmer-Brown, who won the tournament’s Golden Ball award, with the defender guiding his backline to concede only four goals in six matches throughout the tournament. Palmer-Brown and USA had to overcome early adversity in the competition, having suffered defeated a to Panama in their opening match. However, they did not look back and went on to win five consecutive matches against Haiti, St. Kitts and Nevis, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.
Also helping keep things tight at the back for Tab Ramos’ men was Jonathan Klinsmann, son of former USA national team coach and Germany legend Jurgen Klinsmann, with Klinsmann Jnr earning the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper. In attack, the Stars and Stripes relied on a variety of players to contribute, but forward Brooks Lennon, one of five players in the US squad who ply their trade for Real Salt Lake, stood out, scoring four goals and finishing tied for second in the tournament’s goal-scoring charts with Panama’s Ricardo Avila, two behind Mexico's Ronaldo Cisneros.
Seventh heaven for Los Catrachos
Honduras will be heading to their seventh FIFA U-20 World Cup after their second-place finish in Costa Rica. The Hondurans booked their ticket to Korea Republic 2017 by defeating the hosts 2-1 in the second group stage thanks to goals from Denil Maldonado and Foslyn Grant.
Although Honduras have shown consistency at this level in reaching the U-20 World Cup, coach Carlos Tabora and Co will be aiming to reach the knockout phase of the competition for the first time in their history.
“Before talking about anything technical or tactical or our position or our system or our model of play, we must speak of our mental character and our personality,” said Tabora speaking with CONCACAF's official website. “We know that these regional games hold an intrinsic emotional element for the players and today our players showed our personality.”
Mexico emphatic, Costa Rica resolute
Like the USA, Costa Rica were made to battle back from adversity as they started off with an opening-day defeat to El Salvador. Los Ticos were resolute, however, winning their next two group matches against Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda. They could not maintain that run into the next phase of the competition, though, fall to the Hondurans. In a qualification-decider against the Panamanians, they did just enough to clinch their berth on goal difference following a 1-1 draw. Randall Leal’s sensational free-kick early on proved to be just enough for the hosts to book their ninth ticket to the U-20 World Cup and their first trip to the global showpiece since Colombia 2011.
Mexico leave Costa Rica largely disappointed, having lost out at the tournament for the first time in eight years, seeing them undone by USA in a 1-0 second-stage defeat. The CONCACAF U-20 trophy has had El Tricolor’s name on it an astonishing 13 times, so anything other than first was always going to be considered failure on their lofty standards.
However, responding to that shock defeat by the Stars and Stripes in definitive fashion, defeating El Salvador 6-1 to help them over the line to Korea Republic 2017. Led by a strong Santos Laguna contingent, Uriel Antuna and Golden Boot-winner Cisneros were in impressive goal-scoring form. Mexico and head coach Marco Antonio Ruiz will also take pride in winning the tournament’s fair play award.
"First of all, we had to reach the World Cup," said Ruiz. "Qualifiers are different in comparison with the World Cup. We'll have plenty of time to recover in all directions, and to plan well. We'll try to get a team as strong as possible and, as we have always done, prepare them for the best possible Mexico performance at a U-20 World Cup."
Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and USA will catch their breath after a pulsating couple of weeks before looking forward to next week’s Official Draw for the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 on 15 March.