Gold Cup: USMNT survives Qatar scare, sets up USA – Mexico final

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The USMNT continued to simply outlast and outlive their opponents at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, as the Yanks were very much second-best to Qatar for long stretches of Thursday’s semifinal, yet the scoreboard read 1-0 to the Americans at full-time.

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The Americans will face bitter rivals Mexico in the final, in Las Vegas, on Sunday (8:30 pm ET).

Gyasi Zardes scored the only goal of the game with very little time remaining in the second half, and it wasn’t until quite late that the USMNT β€” the group serving as the de facto B-team for this Gold Cup β€” looked the likelier side to win.

Qatar could have scored the winner on a handful occasions early in the game and the 2022 World Cup hosts acquitted themselves incredibly well throughout their run at the Gold Cup as a guest nation.

Each side threatened to score the opening goal inside the first 10 minutes. Qatar went close first, in the 7th minute, when James Sands gave the ball away cheaply and Almoez Ali let a shot fly from the edge of the penalty area. Fortunately for Sands and goalkeeper Matt Turner, Ali pulled it a foot wide of the post.

Two minutes later, Sebastian Lletget uncorked a hard-hit, bouncing effort to test Meshaal Barsham, but Lletget’s shot was hit right at Barsham who spilled the rebound to an offside Paul Arriola, whom he also denied from close range.

Qatar nearly took the lead again in the 19th minute, only to be denied by a fantastic reaction save by Turner. The initial shot came from 35 yards out but the ball took a major deflection off Sands, seemingly redirecting it into the bottom-right corner of Turner’s goal. Turner was quick across and quick to get down and push it wide.

The Qataris went even closer after the ensuing restart, forcing Turner to go even bigger to keep the score level at 0-0. Akram Afif again fired from the edge of the box, and the ball again took a wicked deflection to send it looping high in the air. Abdulaziz Hatem got under it and appeared to have lobbed the ball over Turner with a first-time finish, but Turner scrambled backward and somehow managed to palm the ball away from danger.

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The USMNT began the second half much better than they finished the first and the Yanks so nearly broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute. Daryl Dike got on the end of Matthew Hoppe’s tantalizing cross from the left side. Dike met the ball in the face of goal, but Barsham was quick to rush out and make himself big to make the save.

Barely a minute later, video review revealed that Qatar had been unjustly denied a penalty kick. Sands went in to win the ball as Afif slalomed his way into the box, getting very little or none of the ball as their knees slammed together. Unfortunately for Qatar, Hassan Al-Haydos lobbed his spot kick over the crossbar.

Qatar fell flatter and flatter with each passing minute after the penalty miss, and the USMNT seized control of the game with a triple-sub in the 63rd minute. Head coach Gregg Berhalter managed to ramp up pressure on the ball and begin winning it back higher up the field as a result of the fresh legs.

Said pressure resulted in Zardes’ 86th-minute winner, and it was Zardes who set in motion the sequence which eventually led to him scoring. Zardes forced a desperate clearance that Nicholas Gioacchini chased down and quickly burst upfield on the attack. Gioacchini worked his way into the penalty area and raced toward the end line before cutting the ball back to Zardes, who arrived perfectly late to sweep it home.