By Izuchukwu Okosi
USA will face Argentina or Venezuela in Houston in one of the semifinals of the Copa America Centenario 2016 on Tuesday night (early Wednesday morning in Nigeria) following the Yankees’ 2-1 win over Ecuador in the first quarterfinals early Friday morning.
Jürgen Klinsmann who made wholesome changes to his line up called for courage and his USA players gloriously delivered as he earned his first major tournament knock-out triumph.
The opening stages were cagey. Both sides were standing off, waiting to see who would show their hand first. Clint Dempsey’s 52nd international strike – his third goal of the tournament – early in the first-half however settled home nerves before the evergreen 33-year-old crossed for Gyasi Zardes to roll in the killer second on 65 minutes.
The LA Galaxy forward’s goal was crucial in ensuring a match which threatened to boil over was kept just out of Ecuador’s reach as heads began to get lost in a red mist.
Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia and Jermaine Jones were both sent-off in an unseemly, crazy incident five minutes after half-time which ratcheted up the intensity levels at a raucous CenturyLink Field.
Valencia’s sly kick on Alejandro Bedoya saw Jones react by landing a punch, albeit a weak one, on the winger’s chin. It sparked mayhem and, on reflection, neither player will be rushing to watch a DVD of the incident.
Ecuador, for the most part, were disappointing and really only came alive once the terrier-like Michael Arroyo had pulled one back on 74 minutes.
All of a sudden, the US looked fallible and were ultimately thankful for the wastefulness of West Ham’s Enner Valencia who spurned two gilt-edged chances.
The emotion was laid bare on Klinsmann’s face at the nerve-shredding denouement, the normally placid German becoming involved in a slanging match with Ecuador players who were beginning to lose their heads as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes.
Yet the occasion ultimately belonged to the US who were bold in attack and resolute for long periods at the back. Klinsmann demanded they push forward and show no fear in what was a true test of their talents – and so it proved.