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Doing the math: Canada must beat Panama by two goals

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The United States’ stunning 2-1 loss to Panama Saturday sets up a heck of a photo finish in the group stage of the Gold Cup.

And it makes any fretting over Canada’s inability to pile on goals in its 1-0 win over Guadeloupe absolutely insignificant.

Canada knows that it must go to Kansas City and beat Panama, which leads the group with six points. (The U.S. and Canada have three each). If Canada beats Panama, and the U.S., as expected, beats Guadeloupe, we would have a three-way tie for first.

And this is where it gets interesting. The Gold Cup tiebreakers — when more than two teams finish even on points, that is — is the goal difference in the matches played between the teams in question. In real English: The goals in the Guadeloupe games won’t count.

So, right now, we know the U.S. is +1 (and that won’t change, because the Americans have Guadeloupe left). Panama is +1 (throw away its win over Guadeloupe). Canada is -2 (2-0 loss to the U.S.).

You can’t stress enough that Canada needs to beat Panama, while Panama needs only a draw to ensure top spot. A draw or loss for Canada puts Les Rouges into the tricky derby of the third-place teams, of which two of the four will go through.

So, Canada needs to beat Panama by two to jump ahead in the tiebreaker. It needs to win by four to get ahead of the United States (once again, assuming the U.S. beats Guadeloupe).

It doesn’t matter if the U.S. beats Guadeloupe 1-0 or 11-0.

If Panama and, somehow, Guadeloupe, both won OR both drew their final matches, Canada and the U.S. would tie for second in the group on points. The first tiebreaker when two teams are tied is head-to-head record. So, the U.S. gets second spot while Canada would be relegated to hoping to get one of the two third-place spots.

This is where it gets weird: If Canada beats Panama by a single goal, it would win the group if the U.S. drew or lost to Guadeloupe. But, if the U.S. wins, a one-goal win over Panama would put Canada in third.

Now, we realize Canada got the best possible result out of the Guadeloupe game. The score didn’t matter — the three points did. And, with Panama set up as the critical game, it was far more vital that national coach Stephen Hart ensured that Atiba Hutchinson got the game off, that Dwayne De Rosario played about an hour in the stifling heat, and that striker Simeon Jackson only had to put a half-hour’s worth of work on his legs.

In group stages, it’s more about man management than blowing opponents away — Italy has taught us this in World Cup after World Cup.

And the fact that goal difference against Guadeloupe is insignificant in the tiebreakers, there’s no point in fretting over a one-goal win.

TIEBREAKERS, FROM 2011 GOLD CUP MANUAL
At the end of group play, if two or more teams are equal on points (including ties among third place teams), the manner in which teams will advance to the next round will be resolved as follows and in the order indicated:

a. Greater number of points in matches between the tied teams.
b. Greater Goal Difference in matches between the tied teams (if more than two teams finish equal on points).
c. Greater number of goals scored in matches among the tied teams (if more than two teams finish equal on points).
d. Greater Goal Difference in all group matches.
e. Greater number of goals scored in all group matches.
f. Drawing of lots.

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