In a repeat of the 2007 Pan American Games final, Canada came back twice from behind in second period to force overtime then stun Argentina with a Golden Goal by Connor Grimes. In the other semi-final, Chile totally misplayed and lost to the USA, setting the stage for Canada-USA final that very few observers at the Pan American Cup in Santiago would have predicted before the games!
(semi-final) Argentina vs. Canada: 3 - 4 (Golden goal - half-time: 1-1 - full-time:2-2)
In the hottest day of the competition so far (+34C), semi-final #1 pitted Argentina against Canada, the first time these two teams would clash since the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, when Canada stunned Argentina in the Final (2-2 after extra-time, then 5-4 in penalty-strokes). Argentina had cruised through the first round of this Pan American Cup, with three wins (30 goals scored and only one against) while Canada struggled with their goal scoring and goalkeeping, only coming back to tie Chile in the last minute of play.
Argentina started the game at full speed and pushed Canada back on their heels. They had two early chances with deflections from high forwards that went just wide and could have killed the game before it even started. They also had a few penalty-corners that were well defended by Dave CARTER in the Canadian goal. After this initial shake-up, the experienced Canadian midfield started to settle down and, despite having most of the ball control, the Argentineans were constantly pushed back by a very composed Canadian defense. As is often the case, Canada took advantage of a rare incursion in the opposing circle to open the scoring by Mark PEARSON collecting a high ball and slotting it in goal from a narrow angle.
A period of confuse play followed, the umpires having to intervene a few times to cool down tempers. With time ticking down, Argentina earned another penalty-corner and finally converted the set-play by Lucas VILA, having at least one goal to show for their overall domination of the period.
They promptly took the lead after the break on another penalty-corner, this time by Juan GILARDI, and play slowed down for a while. Argentina still had most of the play but consistently failed to convert the opportunities they were patiently building. In the last fifteen minutes, and still a meager lead to show for their domination, Argentina became more nervous and play suddenly shifted in Canada’s favor, with a good chance for Scott TUPPER on a penalty-corner well saved by Juan Manuel VIVALDI in the Argentinean goal. After a massive chance for Maria ALMADA alone in front of the Canadian goal, Ranjeev DEOL managed to tie the game with eight minute to go, setting up the stage for a torrid end of match, with sudden flashbacks of the Pan Am Games final.
Argentina had to rely on a decisive effort by Pedro IBARRA to take back the lead amongst some confusion on the pitch. With time ticking down, Canada gave everything they had left and pushed back Argentina. With all calls discussed at length by both teams, Argentina went down to ten players after a yellow card to Lucas VILA and Canada earned another penalty-corner, scored by Gabbar SINGH with a straight shot.
The score stayed tied at 3-3, pushing the game into sudden-death overtime, with both teams, and the umpires, knowing that it was suddenly down to a roll of the dice. Both teams started cautiously, with a lone opportunity for Argentina on penalty-corner and a decisive intervention by Dave CARTER in the dying seconds of the first period of overtime. The second period started with the large crowd on the edge of their seats. Canada played quickly a free hit from the left to find Connor GRIMES in the circle; although surrounded by defenders, he didn’t make any mistake and deflected the ball in goal, sending his teammates and the Canadian fans in ecstatic celebrations.
Once again, Argentina, although potentially superior, failed to solve the problem of a gritty Canadian team that certainly deserved today their berth in the Pan American Cup final.
(Semi-final) USA vs. Chile: 2 - 1 (half-time: 1-0)
Semi-final #2 was played in front of full house and broadcast live on National TV. The Chilean players seemed nervous and, although dominating the early stage of the match, could not capitalize. The USA, well backed by Thomas SHERIDAN in goal, weathered the storm calmly and, following the example of Canada in the previous game, took advantage of a lone penalty-corner to take the lead by Pat HARRIS in the 30th minute, silencing the boisterous home crowd.
With the game not going at all according to plan, Chile were suddenly less confident and failed to display the speed and team work that allowed them to push Canada around earlier in the competition. The USA stayed focused on the task at hand and seemed content to live on their meager advantage. Incredibly, they managed to double their lead by Jed CUNNINGHAM in the 64th minute.
USA were reduced to ten players for the end of the game when Ian SCALLY got a yellow card, opening the gate for a last effort by a desperate Chilean team, anxiously pushed by the local crowd. They pulled one goal back by Thomas KANNEGIESSER with two minutes to go, but it was too little too late and the Americans were soon celebrating their unexpected win, while the Chileans will wonder for a while how they can have left the game, and the Pan American Cup final, slip away for their hands.
(Cross-over 5-8) Trinidad & Tobago vs. Brazil: 9 - 0 (half-time: 4-0)
The pace of the cross-over game between Trinidad & Tobago suffered from the blazing heat of the Chilean summer afternoon. The Brazilians players seemed still tired from their intense game against Chile on the last day of pool play, and the final result was never in doubt. The Trinidadians scored four goals in first period, and cruised without exerting themselves too much to a 9-0 final score, with 4 penalty-corner goals for Kwan Browne and six different players finding the back of the net.
(Cross-over 5-8) Mexico vs. Uruguay: 9 - 0 (half-time: 3-0)
The second cross-over followed the same pattern of play, with the Mexicans having near total control of the play. The Uruguayans limited their ambitions to defending and were never in a position to score their first goal of the competition, while Mexico scored three in first period.
Play became unnecessarily rough in second period and did not offer a very exciting display of hockey to the spectators. Mexico missed a number of scoring opportunities, but still scored six more goals (with a hat-trick for Leopoldo RIOS) for a win that put them in the 5th-6th place match against Trinidad & Tobago.
The 2009 Pan American Cup concludes on Sunday in Santiago, Chile, with all classification games, when Brazil will play against Uruguay to avoid the wooden spoon, Trinidad & Tobago play Mexico for 5th-6th, Argentina take on host Chile for the Bronze Medal and finally Canada and the USA will lock horns for the Gold Medal and an automatic berth in the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi, India.
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