ATLANTA: Defending champions US, sparked by six goals in four matches from Clint Dempsey, go into Wednesday’s Gold Cup semi-finals confident but cautious against a defensively determined Jamaica.
The Americans, trying to match Mexico’s record with a sixth title, face the “Reggae Boyz” in the opener at the Georgia Dome followed by a 2013 semi-final rematch between Mexico and Panama in the biennial North American regional football showdown.
“I think we’re in a very good spot going to Atlanta,” said US coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “We approach everything in its proper way and we’re very well prepared. We won’t make it easy for anybody.”
Dempsey produced his first US hat trick in a 6-0 quarter-final romp over Cuba to seize the Gold Cup scoring lead, but the 32-year-old former Fulham attacker expects a tougher test from the Caribbean champions.
“The semi-final is going to be difficult. We can’t look past them,” said Dempsey. “We’ve just got to make sure that we’re sharp and doing everything we can to win.”
Klinsmann has stressed taking advantage of Dempsey’s form, whose 47 career goals are 10 shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time record. “He’s hungry for goals and he has two more meals,” said Klinsmann. “Now we make sure he really enjoys the next two games. Those are the big ones. These are the ones where you really want him to score.”
The Americans hope to retain the trophy and secure a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup, a World Cup warmup event in Russia.
The US squad is 13-1 up with eight draws in head to heads against Jamaica, the lone loss coming 2-1 at Kingston in 2012 during World Cup qualifying.
But these “Reggae Boyz” were toughened by playing in last month’s Copa America and have three consecutive 1-0 Cup wins.
The Jamaicans have already matched their best Gold Cup showing after semi-final runs in 1993 and 1998. “We have a win streak. We don’t want to go down. We want more,” said Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer. “I’m proud of my team.” Schaefer was a Borussia Moenchengladbach teammate of US team advisor Berti Vogts on the first of five Bundesliga champion teams for the club. Schaefer left and was finishing his Bundesliga career as US coach Klinsmann began his.
“This is a team a little more Jurgen’s style. It’s not easy. All their players play at a high level,” said Schaefer. “Now it’s Berti Vogts and Klinsmann against me. This is difficult. We are definitely the underdogs.”
Panama take on Mexico
Panama edged Mexico 2-1 in the 2013 Gold Cup semis but lost 1-0 to the US in the final, and will be hoping to repeat the trick. The Canaleros reached the last four after dispatching Trinidad and Tobago in the ninth round of penalty kicks, goalkeeper Jaime Penedo making the winning save.
“Penedo is very fast,” said Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez. “He has a very high, impressive level.”
Mexico, also toughened by a Copa America appearance, have been beset by injuries, losing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez before the Gold Cup began. Now striker Giovani dos Santos is questionable for El Tri with an adductor injury.
“We will have to keep working on him, see how he feels,” said Mexico coach Miguel Herrera. “If he’s a hundred per cent, then there’s no doubt he will go in.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2015.
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