AUSTIN, TX – Despite a spluttering performance v Jamaica in the Quarters, the USMNT named an unchanged starting XI in the Gold Cup Semi-Final v Qatar. And in much the same way the Reggae Boyz unsettled the USA with their pressure and incisive counter-attacks in the opening 45 minutes, Qatar looked the more dangerous of the two teams in the first half of this match. USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter was still looking for the first Gyasi Zardes goal of the knockout stage.
USMNT Beats Qatar to Make Gold Cup Final Behind Gyasi Zardes Goal
After a nervy start, in the 7th minute, a moment of sloppiness in the heart of US defence provided a fantastic opportunity for Almoez Ali to give the visitors the lead. Fortunately for the US defence, the Qatari forward dragged his near post shot wide.
The USA did enjoy about the majority of possession, nearly 70% at one point, but rather like the MLS team who call Q2 Stadium home, Austin FC, their dominance amounted to very little offensively.
Paul Ariola was able to pounce on a spilled shot when a Matthew Hoppe long-range effort proved too hot-to-handle for Qatari keeper Barsham. Barsham recovered to make a superb kick-save, but Ariola was adjudged to be off-side anyway. And that was about the best the American attack could muster.
The US’s best work was to be reserved for the other end of the field where Matt Turner, perhaps channeling Austin’s MVP keeper Brad Stuver, was all but standing on his head.
In the 19th minute, Turner’s reflexes served him well as he palmed away a shot that deflected off teammate James Sands. Two minutes later and he was displaying his acrobatic abilities with a superb finger-tip save when Homan Hatim seemed certain to score from close-range.
The US earned a few freekicks and a couple of corners but failed to create anything truly threatening. And every time a US move broke down, Qatar countered with speed and variety. Both wings provided teasing crosses. The visitors were also quite happy to run directly down the center of the park, drawing defenders out and opening spaces in behind.
If Qatar had a striker with the finishing ability to match their midfield’s creative ability, despite Turner’s best efforts, they would’ve surely ended the half at least a goal to the good, maybe more.
The USMNT were much improved in the second half. They looked more intentional in possession and on the 53rd the lively Matthew Hoppe slipped in Daryl Dike for their best chance of the game. Dike, who had been quiet all evening, didn’t seem wholly alert to the opportunity. Barsham once again responded with the kick-save from close range.
Qatar immediately countered with purpose. Sands mistimed tackle in the box lead to a lengthy VAR review and the correct call – a penalty kick. Hassan Al Haydos made an absolute hash of the resultant PK, lamely scooping it over the bar. Why do players continue to persist with stutter-step penalties? Have we learned nothing from the Euros?
USA were energized by an increasingly raucous crowd. Gyasi Zardes replaced the largely ineffective Dike, providing fresh legs in attack and a willingness to stretch the Qatar defense. America started to believe. In the 67th minute, some smart interplay and the resultant goalmouth scramble created several chances in quick succession, though none of them clearcut. Could the USMNT do to Qatar what they had done to Jamaica?
In the 85th minute, the USA had a nailed-on penalty call of their own when Williamson was unceremoniously bundled to the ground as he honed in on goal. The ref waved away the protests. It mattered not. On the very next attack less than a minute later, Nicholas Gioacchini slid the ball into the path of an onrushing Zardes, and the USA had the lead late on. Again.
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Despite the ref adding an incredible 9 minutes of injury time, the USMNT hung on for what, on balance, was a narrowly deserved victory. Qatar, for their part, will rue their missed penalty. But their grit and gamesmanship, coupled with some genuinely good skill and attacking creativity will have caused many fans, previously unfamiliar with the Asian champions, to sit up and take notice of the 2022 World Cup hosts.