HARRISON, N.J. — Guatemala knew they had to win by at least two goals against Grenada on Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena if they wanted to play on in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Mission accomplished. Unsurprising to anyone, the Guatemalans came out guns blazing, and they had their necessary two-goal lead within 22 minutes en route to a 4-0 win against the minnows of Group B.
Without a doubt, the best player on the field for either team was Chicago Fire midfielder Marco Pappa. He tormented Grenada’s defense all night, scored in the 22nd minute, and played catalytic roles in all three other Guatemalan goals, including a second-half strike by Philadelphia Union forward Carlos Ruiz.
Jose del Aguila and Carlos Gallardo notched the other goals for los Chapines.
With the win, Ever Hugo Almeida’s side secured their place in the quarterfinals as one of the two third-place teams. Whether they play Group A winner Mexico or the as-yet-determined Group C winner depends on the results from the final Group C matches, in Kansas City on Tuesday night.
The Grenadians, who were without their best player, New England Revolution holding midfielder Shalrie Joseph, bow out of the tournament without a point from three matches. No surprise, given how overmatched they were from the opening whistle against Guatemala.
In just the first minute, Guatemala made their intentions clear. Ruiz had a decent half chance, getting on the end of a Pappa cross, but el Pescadito shanked his volley wide of the target. Three minutes later, Ruiz was into the area again, but this time his shot was blocked.
It wasn’t until the 17th minute that Guatemala broke through. Del Aguila finished off a brilliantly worked play that was drawn up in MLS. Pappa crossed to the far post, where Ruiz was waiting. The Union man chested the ball down, setting up some quick Guatemalan interplay at the top of the box before del Aguila finished it all off with a drive from 22 yards that rippled the net and incited an explosion of cheers from the fans at Red Bull Arena.
Pappa then did the honors himself. Grenada foolishly gave him space to work with at the top of the box, and he took the chance to fire a shot from 25 yards. His risk paid off as goalkeeper Shemel Louison made a hash of the save and the ball trickled into the net off his fingers.
After the second goal, Guatemala continued to press, consistently creating chances for Lopez and Ruiz, but neither had the finishing touch, and the score remained 2-0 at the break.
At halftime, los Chapines seemed to simply reload their biggest weapons. Ruiz finally broke through in the 54th minute. Again, Pappa provided a telling cross into the box, and after sub Jairo Arreola’s shot was blocked, Ruiz was there to slam home the rebound.
Five minutes later, Pappa dribbled into the area and slipped a square pass to Carlos Gallardo, who easily beat Louison with a shot from 6 yards.
In the 64th minute, however, Grenada nearly spoiled the party, as Anthony Straker put a one-time volley just wide of the right post. Twenty minutes later, substitute Marcus Julien came even closer, drilling a right-footed shot off that actually hit the right post.
Two minutes after taht, Ruiz nearly capped the night with would have been one of the prettiest goals of his prolific career. He latched onto a through pass and chipped Louison perfectly only to see his floated ball curl into the post rather than the net.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Guatemala had what they needed.
GUA: del Aguila 16’, Pappa 22’, Ruiz 54’, Gallardo 59’
Guatemala — R. Jerez; C. Gallardo, H. Medina, G. Cabrera, J. Lopez; M. Pappa, W. Velasquez, G. Romero (D. Pezzarossi 83’), M. Pappa (M. Leon 89’), del Aguila; H. Lopez (J. Arreola 46’), C. Ruiz
Subs: C. Castrillo, E. Vasquez, P. Motta, M. Leon, O. Isuala
Grenada — S. Louison; A. Straker, L. Johnson, A. Modeste, M. Marshall (S. Phillip 65’); J. Williams (D. Cyrus 46’), D. Facey (M. Julien 82’), R. Charles, M. Phillip; C. Murray, B. Bubb
Subs: C. Langaigne, L. Joseph, S. Rennie, D. Nowl