By Dan Price
Mexico beat Costa Rica 1-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter final last night thanks to a last gasp penalty at the end of extra time.
It was no less than El Tri deserved, they twice hit the woodwork in the ninety minutes and also saw Carlos Vela spurn two wonderful one-on-one chances.
While the penalty decision itself was dubious, the fact that Mexico eventually won against the side that has been widely hailed as the best in the CONCACAF region for the last twelve months will be hugely satisfying for both the manager and the fans.
With a semi-final against Panama on Wednesday evening, Herrera’s men will now be huge favourites to go on and reach the final, despite their stuttering Gold Cup form.
The win over Costa Rica could not have come at a better time. Two dismal results – a 0-0 draw with 10-man Guatemala and a4-4 draw with Trinidad and Tobago – meant they only managed to finish second in Group C, and there was a sense that a loss in the unusually tough quarter-final would have been a justified and fitting end to their torrid summer.
Instead, a composed defensive display meant that despite Mexico’s poor finishing they rarely looked like conceding. Joel Campbell and Johan Venegas both went close for Los Ticos in the first half hour, but there after
El Tri made all the running while Costa Rica started to sit deeper and deeper.
Costa Rica’s inclination to defend saw chances start to come Mexico’s way. Oribe Peralta hit the post ten minutes after the restart, and Carlos Esquivel – a 61st minute replacement for Hector Herrera – repeated the trick not long after.
Vela then sent two almost identical chances high and wide from close range – firstly after being played in by Peralta and then after an assist from Guardado. It appeared to kill his confidence, and not long after he was hauled off for the impressive Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona.
Costa Rica were immediately unsure how to handle Corona’s trickery and pace. Given Mexico’s striker problems over the last two years – with Vela only recently returning from exile, Hernandez and Jimenez struggling for minutes at club level, and Pulido involved in a never ending contract saga – there is clear reason to believe that Tecatito could become the star of Mexico’s attack in time for the next World Cup in 2018.
Extra time passed without incident, and Guardado kept his cool to send Mexico to the next round in the 124th minute. The result has undoubtedly kept Herrera in a job, and they remain on course for a United States showdown in the final.
The Panama game kicks off at 9pm EDT on Wednesday at the Georgia Dome stadium in Atlanta.