EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One more goal. That’s what Guatemala feel they needed to complete what would have been a miraculous Gold Cup upset of Mexico on Saturday night.
After Philadelphia Union forward and Guatemala captain Carlos Ruiz gave his country a shock 5th minute, the underdogs felt that one more strike would have turned into the knockout punch for David to make Goliath tumble.
“We believe that in the first half we had the opportunity to get another goal on a counterattack which Ruiz started,” said Guatemala manager Ever Hugo Almeida, who pointed to the missed opportunities as the turning point in his post-game press conference. “But all in all, Mexico did well enough to get the result. They never panicked, they played with calm and patience and they got the result. It was tough, but they got it.”
“We said that we were going to execute what we watched on video,” Ruiz said. “We had the opportunity to get more goals but we couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities that we created and we lost the game.”
Mexico may have won the match in the end, but not without controversy. Los chapines believe that both goals by the defending Gold Cup champions could have been called back.
“Yes, there was a foul on the first goal,” Almeida said. “The Mexican player goes on top of the [Guatemalan] defender and he doesn’t let him jump. And the second goal is offside … That’s how it is, fouls weren’t called and the game changed.”
It will go down as transitional Gold Cup tournament for a Guatemalan side currently undergoing a generational shift. Qualifying to the knockout round as a third-placed team, Guatemala featured several young players in this edition of the continental championship, including some from the Under-20 side that will be battling in the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
For a team ranked No. 124 in the world and No. 17 in the CONCACAF region, being up 1-0 at halftime against perennial World Cup participants Mexico will boost the country’s soccer hopes.
“I think we got better with every match,” Ruiz said. “Against Honduras we played well, against Jamaica we didn’t do well. But we recovered against Grenada and then we had a good game plan against Mexico.”
At the age of 31, it might still be too early to determine whether Ruiz will be around to lead Guatemala in the next Gold Cup two years from now. For now, he’ll be focusing on the Philadelphia Union – “Pescadito” says he’s happy at PPL Park and knows nothing about any rumored interest from Mexican club Puebla – and a potential World Cup Qualifying run for Brazil 2014.
“To be sincere, sure we can win any given game but we are not on the same level of competition of a national team like Mexico,” Almeida said. “Things didn’t turn out great up to now but there are teams that have more experience than us. … We leave with our heads held high.
“We hope this helps so that intelligent people can see that Guatemala can take another step. I’m very proud of my players for their efforts.”