Dempsey strike sends U.S into Gold Cup final

Reuters

Thu, 23 Jun 05:55:00 2011

* Subs Donovan and Adu deliver

* U.S. into fourth straight Gold Cup final (Adds Mexico's semi-final win)

The United States will face Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final after a 76th minute goal from Clint Dempsey gave the hosts a 1-0 victory over Panama on Wednesday.

Mexico beat Honduras 2-0 in the day's second semi-final, also at Reliant Stadium, thanks to extra-time goals from Aldo de Nigris and Javier Hernandez.

Panama had beaten Bob Bradley's side 2-1 in the group stage but rarely threatened in the semi-final, and for all the U.S. possession they too were unable to created many chances in a game that was a true test of their patience.

"It was a hard game for sure. I thought that the in stretches in the first half we had a pretty good rhythm with the ball. The second half got harder and Panama did a good job of keeping it tight," said U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

"We put together a very good play to score a great goal. It was a really good team effort."

The breakthrough came 14 minutes from time when substitutes Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan combined superbly to set up Dempsey.

There was a half-chance at the end for Panama, when Amilcar Henriquez bustled into the area before shooting wide, but the United States held firm to claim a hard-earned win.

Bradley sprang a surprise in his starting line-up by leaving Donovan, the long-standing creative force in the team, on the bench for the second successive game.

The move worked, however, and in the first half the United States moved the ball well with Donovan's replacement, Alejandro Bedoya, impressive on the flanks.

Bedoya had a hand in the first real chance in the 25th minute when he fed overlapping full-back Steve Cherundolo, who whipped in a smart cross which teenage striker Juan Agudelo headed against the post.

'PLEASING TOURNAMENT'

Donovan was brought on after the break, replacing Sacha Klejstan, but did not make the instant impact that Bradley would have been hoping for.

Instead, the United States lost their way a little and Panama went close to a shock opener in the 61st minute, Armando Cooper whipping the ball across the area and Alberto Quintero just failing to get on the end of it.

Cooper then burst into the area and forced a good save out of Tim Howard, who tipped the fierce shot over the bar.

The hosts were finally rewarded for their dominance of possession when Adu, on as a sub for his first national team appearance in almost two years, picked out Donovan with a raking cross-field pass.

Donovan cut inside and delivered an inch-perfect pass to Dempsey at the back post, who converted the simple chance.

"Once Landon gets in those positions he normally finds a player. He hit it low and hard and all I had to do was put my foot on it," said Dempsey, who made a point of celebrating his goal with Donovan.

"Panama showed why they are in the semi-finals -- they were very organised but we showed our quality in grinding out a result even if it wasn't our best game," he added.

The United States are seeking their fifth Gold Cup title in what will be their eighth appearance in the final of the championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

For Panama, it was the end of what coach Julio Dely Valdes described as a "pleasing" tournament.

"It was better than what I hoped for -- I knew we had a tough group, but we finished top of it and came up with some strong performances so I leave feeling very pleased.

"This was a very different game from our win over them -- in the first game we surprised them. They paid more attention to us and it was very close."

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