Mexico are set to face CONCACAF rivals Panama in the semi-final of the Gold Cup tonight. Kick-off is at 9pm EDT at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
El Tri might consider themselves somewhat fortunate to be ninety minutes from the tournament’s final. After a comfortable victory over minnows Cuba in their opener, they were held to two disappointing draws against Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago. In the prior they had the benefit of a man advantage for the final twenty minutes, while in the latter they threw away a 2-0 lead.
In the quarter final against Costa Rica they were much better – especially considering Los Ticos have been widely thought of as the best team in the region for the last 18 months. Nonetheless, Mexico spurned numerous chances, with Carlos Vela being particularly wasteful. It was only thanks to a dubious 120th minute penalty decision that they eventually squeezed through.
They now face a Panama side that are yet to win (or lose) a game in ninety minutes during the entire tournament. After drawing each their three group games 1-1 against Honduras, Haiti, and the United States, they beat Trinidad and Tobago on penalties in the quarter final after yet another 1-1 draw after extra time.
On paper, Mexico are the clear favorites. 26 year old Giovani dos Santos is supposedly available after picking up a hip injury against Trinidad and Tobago in the final group game, while Jesus “Tecatito” Corona looked lively and threatening in his cameo during extra time of the Costa Rica. Dos Santos’ return would give the misfiring El Tri attack some much-needed impetus, and there is a good chance Tecatito will be given more minutes to try make himself a permanent fixture in the starting eleven.
Despite Mexico’s tag as favorites, they need to be wary. In the 2013 edition of the tournament they lost to Panama twice – both time by a 2-1 score-line. One of the losses came in the competition’s opening game, but the second defeat was in the semi-final – coincidentally the same stage in which they will once again do battle tonight.
Panama are actually Gold Cup specialists – this is the third successive time that they’ve reached the semis – in 2011 they lost 1-0 to the US thanks to a late Clint Dempsey goal.
In the other semi-final, the United States are expected to beat Jamaica (kick-off 6pm EDT). It means that the outcome of this game could either give us the fans’ dream showdown or a repeat of the 2013 final – both of which would be mouth-watering. It promises to be a great game.