DEFENDING champions USA take on surprise package Jamaica in the first CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) steers us in the direction of the best bets.
USA v Jamaica | Wednesday 23.00 | BT Sport 1
We’re down to the final four at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and I’m sitting in the unusual position of having a guaranteed finalist. As well as a decent sized lump on tournament hosts USA retaining their title, I also had a bit of the 66/1 on Jamaica each-way in the days leading up to the competition. Naturally, I’d like to see the Reggae Boyz progress but lets take a look at the showdown from a neutral perspective.
The US have been far from their best in the past fortnight. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men struggled to deal with the physicality and combative nature of group-stage opponents Haiti and Honduras but unsurprisingly cut loose against Cuba in the quarter-finals. We learnt little from that last eight hammering but it would take a brave man to write off the Stars and Stripes based upon those four recent displays.
There’s plenty left in the Yanks locker, you’d assume. Confidence and belief remains sky-high in the camp although it would be wrong not to highlight a few potential weaknesses before they journey to Atlanta and a semi-final bout against Jamaica, right?
To begin with, Klinsmann has yet to settle on his preferred defensive make-up. The German has shown a willingness to blood youngsters and stick by underperforming players but they lack cohesion and have tended to struggle against pace. Ventura Alvarado and Timmy Chandler are the most likely casualties with the experienced DaMarcus Beasley getting the nod.
And then there’s the issue of skipper Michael Bradley. Outstanding in friendly victories in the Netherlands and Germany, the US poster boy isn’t accustomed to carrying playmaking duties in the final third. World class distributor, yes. Deliver defence-splitting passes against a packed defence? not quite.
The reason I mention the above is, well… both potential weaknesses are likely to pose problems for USA when they face Jamaica on Wednesday night. Unlike the ragged Cubans who showed little resilience, the Reggae Boyz are proving a tough nut to crack – the Caribbean champions conceded just one goal-per-game in their Copa America excursions during June and have now kept three consecutive clean sheets since their opening 2-2 draw with Costa Rica at the Gold Cup.
Sure, Winfried Schafer’s troops struggled in parts of their 1-0 quarter-final win over Haiti but as I noted pre-game, four of the Reggae Boyz’ seven MLS players were unavailable and Jermaine Taylor, Je-Vaughn Watson and Darren Mattocks are all back in contention having served their suspensions.
After Giles Barnes' early goal against Haiti, Jamaica practically gave up on any sort of attack, with Haiti controlling nearly two-thirds of possession, winning 17 corner kicks to Jamaica's three. Was that in the plan? Was Schafer trying to minimise workload with fatigue creeping in after a hectic summer? Perhaps.
But where the 9/1 (Bet365) underdogs could really hit the US where it hurts, is the counter-attack. Jamaica have an attack full of pace, purpose and power – the perfect recipe against a defence that’s looked vulnerable against speed – and they’ll look to flood forward as soon as they turn the ball over. The Yanks won’t have faced a side as dangerous during the competition.
USA are just 9/20 (BetVictor) to win in 90 minutes and that’s just a reflection of where Klinsmann’s charges are at these days. With Mexico wobbling, the Stars and Striipes are odds-on favourites to successfully defend their title but I’m desperately hoping Jamaica can give them a good run for their money.
The Reggae Boyz haven’t reached the final four since 1998 and have suffered defeats in both their previous semi-final appearances. However, they arrive with a W7-D2-L3 record across their past 12 fixtures and that includes one-goal defeats against Argentina and Uruguay at the Copa. In fact, six of their previous seven outings have ended in a 1-0 scoreline whilst eight of their most recent 10 have seen at least one team fail to score.
The USA may have W7-D1-L0 in their last eight but just six clean sheets in 23 is just further proof of their defensive toils. Jamaica are 23/20 (William Hill) just to score a goal and 20/19 (BetVictor) with a +1 start on the Asian Handicap market with both bets holding plenty of appeal.
I’ll take that Asian Handicap angle – if USA win by one goal, we’ll get our cash back, draw or Jamaican win will see our bet win with a two-goal or bigger American victory the only losing possibility. There are endless possibilities for this match-up but this odds-against play appears the best avenue, to me.
USA v Jamaica – Jamaica +1 Asian Handicap (20/19 BetVictor)
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