Guatemala leaves Gold Cup hopeful, realistic
By Ivan Orozco

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey - Guatemala coach Ever Hugo Almeida was blunt. He tried not to veil his team's deficiencies.

Forty-two minutes from what could have been one of the biggest upsets in Gold Cup history, Guatemala surrendered two second-half goals and lost 2-1 to Mexico in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup before a crowd of 78,807 at New Meadowlands Stadium.

"We have to be honest, we can win a game like this one but we are not yet at the competitive level with Mexico. We are missing two players, "Almeida said in reference to the injured Jose Manuel Contreras and Carlos Figueroa. "We need experience at the international level. We are trying to make changes in Guatemala. It is a young team.

"A lot of the guys who played (against Mexico) had never played in front of so many people. We have guys from the Under-20 team. We are trying to do things differently. Things are not how we want them to be. There are better teams."

Guatemala, which didn't even qualify the 2009 Gold Cup, allowed only two goals in the group stage and claimed a berth in the quarterfinals over El Salvador and Canada.

It needed a three-goal victory over Grenada in its final match to reach the knockout round, and achieved that with a 4-0 victory.

It still was disappointing to let Mexico get away.

Los Chapines took a lead in the fifth minute with a goal by veteran striker Carlos Ruiz. Almeida's team then defended its goal for the next 43 minutes. Mexico broke through with an Aldo De Nigris goal to equalize , then Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez scored the eventual winner to send Guatemala home.

Besides qualifying for the knockout round for only the third time, Guatemala has been the only team to hold a lead against Mexico.

But that is not enough for Almeida. He said there are more challenging things ahead.

"We know that it is difficult to maintain continuity in Guatemalan soccer," Almeida said "We have to plan for this team. Maybe train twice a month, every 15 days depending on what we can do."

Pundits have suggested that for Guatemala to advance, it must export more players to foreign leagues. Marco Pappa and Ruiz already play in U.S. Major League Soccer with the Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union.

But perhaps some say its players need to go beyond MLS and into other parts of the world, like Mexico and the United States, who have most of its players competing in Europe.

The Gold Cup quarterfinal showing followed Guatemala qualifying for its first berth in the Under-20 World Cup earlier this year. Both have given Guatemala reason for hope.

"We leave the Gold Cup with our head held high," Almeida said. "We have to understand that we are Guatemala and that we are 125th in the world and 17th in CONCACAF. We have to analyze it and do things right so we can move ahead looking to the (World Cup) qualifiers.

"My contract expires soon. We now have to look to the U-20 World Cup. We'll have to wait. This serves as a lesson to people that Guatemala can take a step forward and that they must feel proud as I do."