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Honduras plays it even with Guatemala in soccer Gold Cup opener

Over its last two editions, the CONCACAF Gold Cup has pretty much evolved into a long, drawn-out process that eventually ends with the region’s two dominant soccer countries — Mexico and the U.S. — playing for the title.

Honduras would like the region to believe there is a new power emerging.

Yet in its Gold Cup opener Monday before a modest but enthusiastic crowd of 21,507 at the Home Depot Center, Honduras did little to advance that argument, playing a pesky and outmanned Guatemalan squad to a scoreless tie.

It was a tie Guatemala earned after defenders Gustavo Cabrera and Henry Medina were sent off in an 18-minute span of the second half, forcing Guatemala to finish the game with just eight outfield players.

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Missing four starters from last summer’s World Cup team, Honduras wasn’t at its best Monday. But it pressed Guatemala from the start, with Carlo Costly just missing an open net at the far post in the opening minute.

That proved a preview of coming attractions as Honduras failed to convert several other exceptional chances, including a left-footed Oscar Garcia shot from the edge of the penalty area that bounced off the crossbar in the 33rd minute and a Costly shot from close range early in the second half that keeper Ricardo Jerez stopped.

And though neither Central American team could ultimately find the back of the net, the tie was a blow to favored Honduras and a boost to Guatemala.

“I’m not one to make excuses,” Honduran Coach Luis Fernando Suarez said. “We have to find solutions to our problems.”

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One problem, said Suarez, in his third month on the job, is the fact he had just three weeks to integrate his European- and U.S.- based players into his program.

“I don’t want to make excuses,” he repeated. “But we’re going to have to work with them more this week.”

For Guatemala Coach Ever Hugo Almeida, the tie was as good as a win.

“That point could turn out to be a big one,” he said.

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In the Group B opener, Luton Shelton scored one first-half goal and set up another to lead Jamaica to a 4-0 win over Grenada.

Shelton opened the scoring in the 21st minute when he stuck his left foot in front of a Rodolph Austin cross and deflected it past keeper Shemel Louison. A long ball from Shelton to Dane Richards down the right wing led to the second score when Richards chipped the ball in to Ryan Johnson at the edge of the box and Johnson guided it into the back of the net in the 39th minute.

Demar Phillips and Omar Daley scored five minutes apart late in the second half to complete the rout of Grenada, which, with a population less than that of West Covina, is the smallest country to ever qualify for the Gold Cup.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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