US beats Panama 2-1, advances in Gold Cup

July 18, 2009 8:48:29 PM PDT
Walter Martinez helped Honduras temporarily put aside thoughts of the political turmoil in its country with a goal in the 36th minute of the first half to beat Canada 1-0 and advance into the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal. Honduras will play the United States on Thursday in Chicago. Donis Escobar was flawless in goal for Honduras, making a few nice stops in the second half to preserve the lead.

With the state of their country's leadership in flux, the Honduran faithful came out by the thousands to cheer on their team. The fans waved the flag or draped it over the railing in several sections of the stadium, and greatly outnumbered the Canadian fans.

Canada's Paul Stalteri was penalized for interfering with Martinez as he attempted a bicycle kick near goal. That gave Martinez a shot at putting the first goal on the board during a spirited first half.

Martinez shot the ball on the penalty kick to the left of Canadian Greg Sutton while the goalie dove toward the right and could not make the stop.

Martinez was mobbed from behind by his teammates and ran to the corner where the fans in their blue-and-white shirts went wild. Martinez was patted on his head as he celebrated.

When Martinez left the game in the 72nd minute, he clapped at the crowd and cheered as he headed toward the bench. The fans responded in kind, blowing horns and pointing in tribute at their star of the game.

"I was ready to score," Martinez said.

Honduras could use something to celebrate.

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was hoping mediators would reach an agreement that would restore him to power. Zelaya was ousted in a June 28 military coup.

The chief mediator in the Honduras crisis talks has proposed to resolve the conflict by reinstating Zelaya as head of a national unity government, holding early elections and issuing a general amnesty.

"It's difficult for all of us," Martinez said. "Coach has his family in Honduras as do all of us."

Martinez said he wanted to take the opportunity to ask the government to "seek peace."

Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda said through a translator his team was "dedicated to offering peace and tranquility."

Far from home, Martinez and Honduras did enough to advance to the semifinal for the first time since 2005. The fans erupted at the end of the gams as Honduras mobbed each other at midfield, then clapped and waved to their supports as they left the field.

Canada, which won the Gold Cup in 2000, was eliminated. It went 2-1-1.

"I think we showed a lot of character in a few games," Canadian national team coach Stephen Hart said. "In the second half today, we showed we could come away with another result."

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