The celebrations started prematurely for El Salvador supporters Tuesday night.
In a wave of blue and white, they flooded the parking lots and the long green lawn of Exposition Park hours before their Gold Cup group-stage finale at Banc of California Stadium, their full-throated chants and triumphant pounding of drums drowning out the hum of evening traffic.
For the first hour of their match against rival Honduras, which had already been mathematically eliminated from reaching the knockout stage, the Salvadoran cheering continued, as if their prideful playlist had been put on repeat. They thought they were on their way to the next stage of CONCACAF’s semi-annual continental championship.
Then, the music stopped. With four swift second-half goals, Honduras crashed the party.
El Salvador’s 4-0 loss to its Central American counterpart denied the country of a quarterfinal berth that earlier in the night had seemed so close. Instead, Jamaica and Curacao — which drew 1-1 in the first game of the Group C doubleheader — punched their tickets to the knockout round in front of a sellout crowd of 22,035.
Entering the night, Jamaica and El Salvador led the four-team group with four points, followed by Curacao with three. Honduras, which lost its first two group stage matches, was eliminated. In the first game, Jamaica appeared on its way to another three points. After a wave of early chances, forward Nicholson Shamar put the Caribbean country in front, turning in Andre Lewis’ low volley with a deflection in the 14th minute.
But Curacao, which upset Honduras last Friday to earn its first Gold Cup victory in 50 years, stayed alive. With Curacao still trailing by just a goal in the 90th minute, defender Jurien Gaari picked up a ball in open space from about 25 yards, swung his right foot through it, and found the upper-right corner of the goal.
For Jamaica, the draw was enough to secure place in the knockout round, where it could find itself on another collision course with the U.S. Four years ago, Jamaica stymied the Americans’ momentum coming out of a strong 2014 World Cup with a 2-1 upset in the semifinal round. The U.S. returned the favor in 2017 with a 2-1 victory in the Gold Cup final.
“I’m not even thinking about the next game,” Jamaican coach Theodore Whitmore said when asked about a potential rematch with the U.S. “I’m going to look at this performance this afternoon, then see who we play next.”
Curacao’s late equalizer gave El Salvador work to do in the nightcap. Had Jamaica held on in the first game, El Salvador’s place in the quarterfinals would have been cemented regardless of its result against Honduras.
El Salvador started brightly enough, generating several chances to enter halftime with a a 0-0 scoreline that would have been good enough to advance.
But once Honduras broke the seal just shy of the hour mark, when midfielder Jorge Alvarez curled a strike from outside the box into the top corner in the 59th minute, El Salvador had no answer.
“I didn’t imagine a result like this,” Honduras coach Fabian Coito said through a translator. “Such a lopsided win.”