IT’S quarter-final time at the CONCACAF Gold Cup with hosts USA taking on rank outsiders Cuba in the curtain-raiser from Baltimore. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) talks us through the best bets.
USA v Cuba | Saturday 22.00 | ESPN
Well we’re finally here, the quarter-finals. The Gold Cup has been full of intrigue, surprise and excitement, even if the football has been a little substandard. But we can throw all that out the window as the knockout stages should see quality over quantity as well as that aforementioned cocktail of intrigue, surprise and excitement. Actually, hold that thought…
The first last eight showdown pits hosts USA and minnows Cuba together. The match marks the first meeting between the two nations since diplomatic relations were restored in December but there’s unlikely to be anything friendly in the full-time score. The yanks should pummel their Caribbean counterparts – anything but a right royal humping should be deemed a failure.
The Americans have struggled to find their feet so far in the Gold Cup but boss Jurgen Klinsmann has been quick to defend his team by suggesting, they’re playing themselves into the competition. That maybe so but drab displays in beating a combative Honduras outfit and a physical Haiti team before a 1-1 draw with Panama means there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Klinsmann’s made a few alterations to his squad for the final push – Jozy Altidore has been sent home and experienced DaMarcus Beasley called up in one of three changes in personnel. Beasley should step in and provide much-needed stability to the youthful defence but even with John Brooks suspended for the Cuban clash, it’s not an area that the Stars and Stripes should need to fully address just yet.
You see, USA are chasing a seven consecutive Gold Cup final appearance and a fourth title in six tournaments and are as short as 1/25 (William Hill) to beat their opponents inside 90 minutes. Cuba are 40/1 (Sportingbet) and enter the knockout stages as one of the biggest underdogs in Gold Cup history.
That seems unfair for a nation that reached the same stage of the competition two years ago. But in 2013 things ended abruptly for the Lions of the Caribbean, losing 6-1 to eventual runners-up Panama despite their group-stage performances being a class apart from what we’ve seen this month.
Back in 2013 Cuba advanced as one of the best third-placed finishers (just like this year) but managed a more than reasonable five goals in their first three encounters. In 2015 they’ve progressed with a goals scored/against record of 1-8 and been dogged by bureaucratic visa problems and defections.
Four Cuban players have left the squad during the tournament – two officially defected and two haven't been found yet. Yet Maikel Reyes' late game-winning goal against Guatemala was enough to provide coach Raul Gonzalez with a place in the last eight. They’ll be buoyed by their Houdini act but even so, it’s impossible to ignore their results and performances in that 6-0 demolition by Mexico and the 2-0 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago.
Should the US put their foot down, step on the gas and enforce their authority (even tentatively), we should see a relatively comfortable win for the defending champions. But in such a one-sided contest it can be difficult to find a decent value bet – the Asian Handicap line has been set at three and that seems more than fair.
However, I’m going to keep things simple and back USA to win both halves at 4/6 with Betway. Knowing they’re as skinny as 1/25 to win the match, getting 4/6 appears generous and we should get a good run for our money. I’m in!
USA v Cuba – USA to win both halves (4/6 Betway)
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