No Era Penal 2015…

by Luis Eduardo Flores

It’s cliché to say that “history repeats itself”, even if the game is not 100% identical. Still, apparent clichés do not take away from the excitement of last night’s match between Mexico and Costa Rica. “El Tri” and “Los Ticos” dueled it out for a 120 hot and humid minutes.

It’s been a tough journey for the Mexican side, even before the start of this year’s Gold Cup. Just a month ago, Mexico took part in the CONMEBOL Copa America (Group A). Exactly one month ago, on June 19, Mexico lost to Ecuador in their final tournament meeting. With that, Mexico bowed out of the Copa America in shame.

In order to make up for their weak performance in Chile, Mexico had to dominate the Gold Cup; starting from their first game. Cuba was up first, and they took a massive 0-6 beating. Then Mexico was halted in their match against Guatemala. Mexico’s encounter ended in a 0-0 draw. Guatemala was expected to be Mexico’s toughest (that’s a huge compliment) group stage opponent, but not to the point in which Mexico was unable to score.

Well, that’s fine. The match is against Trinidad & Tobago; that should be a cakewalk. Wrong! The Group C underdogs took the CONCACAF giants head on and nearly walked out with a stunning upset. Mexico opened up the scoreboard at the 32nd minute with a goal by Paul Aguilar and then another at the 51st minute by Carlos Vela. T&T answered back with two consecutive goals; one at the 55th minute by Keron Cummings and the other at the 58th minute by Kenwyne Jones. For everyone that taught a 2-0 lead secures a victory; you’re wrong (ex: 2011 Gold Cup final). Nine minutes later, Cummings gave T&T the lead and a potential victory. Captain Andres Guardado put Mexico back in the game with a goal at the 88th minute. Jones, the man that tied the game, nearly lost the game with an own goal at the 90th minute. In most games, a one goal advantage scored that late in the game means that the game is over. T&T saw things differently. “El Maza” Francisco Rodriguez conceded a corner kick in the closing seconds of the game. All that Mexico had to do was clear the ball, but they couldn’t. Yohance Marshall scored with a header from the center of the box to the top right corner.

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The 4-4 draw gave Mexico a ticket to the quarter-finals; but not in the way Mexico is accustomed. Mexico actually came out of their group as runner-ups. For a team like Mexico, it’s relatively embarrassing to not only come out of the group in 2nd place, but to finish behind a small team like Trinidad & Tobago in a 4-4 draw it’s more shameful.

Surprisingly; it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Costa Ricans in Group B. Costa Rica was actually expected to top their group in similar fashion. Instead they didn’t; Costa Rica came out of the group in 2nd place behind Jamaica. The best part is that Costa Rica did not win a single game. They had to settle for three draws.

Mexico and Costa Rica reached the quarter finals to face each other as teams of irony and clichés. Both teams ended in 2nd place in their respective groups, drew against weaker opponents, and both have injured players. Plus, they both were eliminated by the Netherlands, last year in the World Cup. The relevancy of the Netherlands is pretty obvious and much more obvious at the end of the game.

The game started with both teams wanting the early lead. Four minutes into the match, Costa Rica’s Cristian Gamboa conceded a corner kick. Five minutes later, Mexico’s Memo Ochoa conceded a corner kick. Costa Rica won another corner, this time it was conceded by Yasser Corona. Unlike T&T, Costa Rica was unable to score off these two chances.

Corona and Jonathan dos Santos tried to put Costa Rica in danger with through balls to Peralta; both of which were ruled offside. Is it bad luck or bad timing? It’s probably more thant that.

At the 13th minute, Joel Campbell tried to win a free kick, but he was rewarded a yellow card for diving. Epic foreshadowing?

Paul Aguilar tried to score at the 18th minute with an assist from Peralta, but his shot was saved. That was one of Mexico’s best chances to score and one of the best saves by David Ramirez. In the five minutes that followed, we saw five fouls and one hand ball. Those were really entertaining and frustrating five minutes; that depends on the team you’re cheering for.

At the 30th minute, Mexico won another corner kick. Off the corner kick, Hector Herrera was unable to score with his sky rocket shot. Moments later, Vela tried a left footed shot from outside the box to the top center of the goal, but his shot was saved. Excellent save.

Johan Venegas tried to put Memo Ochoa to the test with a left footed shot from the center of the box. Memo didn’t have to worry too much since Venegas shot missed. Seriously, Memo was only put to the test during Mexico’s match against Trinidad & Tobago. In every other game, he has been relaxing for the most part. Probably he went out to use the restroom, eat a snack, or tweet about the game (#Bored).

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In the last two minutes of the 1st half, Mexico almost scored on two attempts. First, Miguel Layun tried a through ball to Peralta. Layun’s passed was ruled offside. Once Mexico was back on the attack, Guardado provided Peralta with an assist; only for Peralta’s shot to go too high. The 1st half officially ended right after a Mexican free kick on their defensive half.

Just like in every other game, Mexico lacks in their finishing touch. With the amount of pressure that they put on their opponent’s defense, you’d think that Mexico should have shattered that defensive wall. It’s just ridiculous as to how Mexico has been unable to convert its chances into goals.

Right at the start of the 2nd half, Costa Rica gets fouled by Miguel Layun. Joel Campbell’s free kick didn’t put Mexico in danger. That was pretty much pointless. Layun tried to make up for that foul with an attempt to score. His right footed shot from outside of the box was saved along with Costa Rica’s chances to take the lead.

The 49th and 51st minute produced two more chances for Mexico to score. El Maza was able to make the pass to Vela, only for Vela’s shot to get blocked. Peralta tried again after an assist from Vela. Yet again, Peralta was unable to score as his shot hit the post.

One can make the excuse that the conditions in Metlife Stadium are not ideal (both the turf and the 100*F weather). Those conditions are contributing factors; not the main factors. Every team around the world deals with similar if not worse conditions.

Mexico failed yet again at the 64th minute by Corona (assisted by Diego Reyes’ headed pass after a corner kick). Carlos Esquivel (61st minute sub for Hector Herrera) tried a right footed shot after an assist by Guardado. Ramirez got another save. This goalie has been on par with almost every on-target Mexican shot. He’s definitely done an excellent job for the injured Keylor Navas.

Vela got another chance along with another miss at the 68th minute (assisted by Peralta). Vela’s frustration is clearly building with each missed attempt. It happened again at the 74th. Guardado provided Vela with a through ball. A God given opportunity was presented to Vela, but Vela’s shot went too high. With all of Vela’s shots going sky high, he’s probably scoring goals against God.

With the defensive frailties that his team was showing Costa Rican coach Paulo Wanchope brought in New York Red Bulls defender Roy Miller for attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz. This substitution was both understandable yet questionable at the same time. As mentioned, Costa Rica has been weak, defensively. Despite the fact that Mexico has yet to score does not justify the weak defense; hence why Miller was brought in. Then again, when playing with the Red Bulls, he plays as part of the defense. As a defender, sometimes he joins the defensive midfield; not the attacking midfield. He’s not accustomed to joining the attacking midfield all that often. Then again, as the game was reaching the end, Wanchope needed whatever fire power he could add onto the field.

In the apparent closing ten minutes of the game, both teams stepped up their game. With the added attacking efforts of both teams, only fouls and free kicks were produced. There were literally no shots taken. At the 86th minute, Vela was subbed out for Jesus Manuel Corona. Coach Herrera needed to bring out the last bit of fresh legs left on the Mexican bench. Then Yasser Corona was subbed out due to injury to bring in Oswaldo Alanis. The closing moments of regular did not produce anything else; just wait time for the teams and fans.

The 1st half of extra time started with a foul by Layun. Celso Borges won a free kick, but Costa Rica was unable to make anything out of it. Typical. Wanchope brought in his final substitute for the injured Gamboa; David Myrie. Myrie tried to make an immediate impact in the game; which got him a yellow card for fouling Miguel Layun. Mexico was unable to convert the free kick into an attacking effort.

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In the 100th minute, El Maza committed two fouls which got him a well deserved yellow card. Sure, a veteran like El Maza should know better; then again the physical and mental frustration has already taken root. Peralta committed a foul a few minutes; thus proving the obvious for those that thought otherwise. Myrie nearly committed a foul inside the box that might have sealed the game for Meixco. His hard slide tackle was good, so Costa Rica was safe. The 1st half of extra time was exciting yet disappointing. In key moments that you thought that there was going to be a goal, you were fooled.

It’s almost crunch time. If nothing happens here…penalty shootout. Earlier, Trinidad & Tobago lost to Panama after 9 rounds of penalties. For Mexico and Costa Rica, that would be the worst case scenario. Just as the 1st half of extra time, we saw more fouls and free kicks. In the 110th minute, Campbell got a through ball in to Venegas, but the play was ruled offside. Costa Rica’s first major attacking effort in a long time resulted in nothing.

Mexico once again got inside Costa Rica’s defensive end and won a free kick (foul by Francisco Calvo at the 117th minute). At the 119th minute, Esquivel won a free kick in Mexico’s defensive half. Off the free kick, Mexico went on one final attack. Reyes provided Esquivel with a headed pass; yet once again another Mexican missed attempt. In the last minute in the 2nd half of extra time, Peralta was on the verge of receiving a cross when Roy Miller barely got tug of Peralta’s shirt. That was not a dive and much less a penalty. Regardless, the referee saw it the other way. Hmmm…shades of the 2014 World Cup: Round of 16? With that, Mexico was awarded a very controversial penalty. “Prince” Andres Guardado stepped up to score the penalty. Now Andres Guardado has been crowded “King” Andres Guardado. The “No Era Penal” curse has been a year later and now it’s passed on to Costa Rica.

In each of Mexico’s games, we learned many things. First, Mexico really needs to work on their finishing touch. Then there is also the fact that Peralta and Vela lack communication. Individually, they are great players; the lack of communication is stopping them from being consistently effective when attacking. Sure, Mexico was missing Javier Hernandez, but Giovanni dos Santos was the one that was truly missing. In comparison to Vela, Peralta, and Hernandez; dos Santos has much better ball control whereas the latter are strikers.

Now, Mexico faces Panama. Mexico knows that this won’t be an easy game. In addition, Mexico has a score to settle against the team that beat them twice in the 2013 Gold Cup (Group A then the semi-final). Maybe in their next game, the goals posts and nets will be raised much higher for the sake of Vela.

Somewhere in the Netherlands, Arjen Robben saw this and laughed at the irony.

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Photo: espnfc.com, nj.com, fullofflags.com

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