RICH FIDLER - Sunday, March 16, 2008
The United States finished at the top of the Group A of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifications following a dramatic last minute converted penalty kick from Eddie Gaven that allowed Pete Nowak's team to advance to the semi-finals on Thursday.
Nowak shuffled his line-up for the final group game, handing starts to goalkeeper Dominic Cervi, midfielder Sal Zizzo and Chicago Fire forward Chad Barrett. The American's star of the previous two games, Freddy Adu, was kept out of the game by Nowak in order to rest the midfielder in anticipation of Thursday's encounter.
The US started off well with Zizzo using his speed to get behind the defense twice in the first four minute; the second led to a cross from Kamani Hill. Hill's slicing service was challenged by Barrett and Stuart Holden, but the contested ball went just wide of the post.
In the eighth minute George Wilson Welcome appeared to have scored for Honduras but the center official ruled that the striker fouled Cervi enroute to goal, and a free kick was awarded to the Red, White and Blue.
Twenty-two minutes before half-time the US played some excellent possession soccer before Zizzo slotted a ball to starting striker Robbie Findley but the youngster's shot was blocked by the defense and put out for a corner kick.
The second half started brightly when Charlie Davies was pulled down in the penalty area in the 62nd minute by Oscar Morales and referee Erico Wijngaarde pointed to the penalty spot. He stepped up to take the shot he earned but the Hammarby striker pushed it wide right, giving life to Honduras.
Midfield ace Ramon Nunez had the best chance of the game for Honduras when his shot from 10-yards bounced off the left goal post much to his disappointment in the 84th minute.
Charlie Davies was pulled down in the penalty box once again in stoppage time, but instead of attempting his second of the game the Columbus Crew midfielder stepped to the spot. Gaven beat goalkeeper Kevin Hernandez with a perfectly placed shot to secure the victory for the hosts.
The Americans will head north to Nashville to begin preparations for their semi-final match against the second place finisher from Group B, which after a wild final day of matches that saw 11 goals scored will be northern neighbor Canada who beat out Mexico for the spot due to goal differential.