On a supremely sweltering day in Kansas City, Haiti kept their cool and continued their impressive Gold Cup form.
After drawing with Panama and giving the heavily favored United States all they could handle, the pre-tournament outsiders concluded Group A play with a statement win over Honduras. The result means that Los Catrachos, who’ve appeared in the semifinals of the Gold Cup on three straight occasions and are a year removed from a World Cup appearance, have been eliminated from this year’s tournament in group play.
2015 Gold Cup: Honduras Eliminated After Loss To Surprising Haiti
The Haitians opened up the scoring in the 14th minute on a sequence that was as quintessential route one soccer as you’re going to see. They also did a wonderful job taking advantage of poor spacing all over the field on the part of Honduras.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 13, 2015
Goalkeeper Johnny Placide blasted the ball from just outside his own box. Haiti’s tall, lanky target forward Kervens Belfort used his 6’1″ frame to win an aerial ball over Honduran defender Johnny Palacios (himself 5’11”). The ball came down to the feet of Belfort’s teammate up top Duckens Nazon who was making a run into the right side of the box. Nazon cleverly and delicately placed it far post to beat opposing goalie Donis Escober and give his team the lead.
Haiti appeared to do the best at not letting the excessive heat get to them in the first half. With the kickoff temperature at Sporting Park in the mid-90s and humidity pushing the heat index firmly into triple digit territory, the Haitians had much more pep in their step during the opening 45.
Showing more of sense of urgency in the second half, Honduras came out of the locker room at halftime with much more energy in search of the equalizer. Tactically speaking though, their opponents went into a defensive shell, content to sit back, concede possession and play for counters. It’s a strategy that worked wonders against Panama even when they trailed, as the eventual equalizer in that game came off a counterattack.
The combination of those two factors were glaringly evident in the final possession numbers. Honduras had a 72-28 edge in the second half and 62.6-37.4 over the course of the whole game. Despite that significant advantage holding the ball, there was very little in terms of creating convincing chances to test Placide.
— John Bava III (@LWOSJohnBava) July 14, 2015
Honduras’ biggest opportunity to tie the game and salvage something out of this match came in the 71st minute. Forward Eddie Hernandez had the ball at his feet with only Placide to beat and fired a shot towards his left. The Haitian goalkeeper, who plays for French Ligue 1 side Reims, was up to the task and made the save to preserve the lead.
That would not be the last time Hernandez failed to finish a chance. In the 75th minute, Honduran midfielder Carlos Discua sent in a well-placed cross from the right that came to Hernandez in the middle of the box. His attempted header missed the net to the right.
All in all, despite the gigantic possession numbers in Honduras’ favor, both teams finished with eight total shots including two on goal. Clearly, the inability from Los Catrachos to regularly test Placide ultimately proved to be their undoing in this game. Give credit to the Haitians, though. Their defensive shape and discipline was solid throughout the second half and was instrumental into them getting the full three points.
Haiti finish Group A with four points and, assuming the United States either win or draw against Panama, will finish second in the group. It’s a hugely impressive effort from a team not expected to make much if any noise in this tournament.
For the Hondurans, it’s the first time they haven’t advanced out of the group stage of the Gold Cup since 2003. Certainly that’s not what was expected when Jorge Luís Pinto, who helped lead Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of last year’s World Cup, was brought in as manager late last year. Such a lackluster performance has undoubtedly led to more questions than answers for this team going forward.
Photo Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images