No Era Penal…Again…

by Luis Eduardo Flores

Yet again, Mexico’s national team escaped a loss; this time with two penalties. One of which was clean whereas the other was very controversial.

Just last week, Costa Rica and Mexico played a full game that was on the verge of going to a penalty shootout. In the closing moments of the game, Oribe Peralta was about to receive possession on an aerial attempt inside Costa Rica’s box. At the same time Costa Rica’s Roy Miller got a light tug on Peralta’s jersey. With that, Peralta went down (not diving) and the referee awarded Mexico a penalty kick. Andres Guardado scored to send Mexico into the semifinals against Panama.

Panama also made it to the semi-finals; in a penalty shootout against Trinidad & Tobago. In comparison to Mexico’s game, this was hard-fought match between two teams that performed really well; especially T&T. Now Panama and Mexico have Gold Cup history against each other. In the 2013 Gold Cup, Panama beat Mexico in their Group-A match and then the semifinal (ironically).

Mexico and Panama’s 2013 Gold Cup rematch was expected to a tough contest for both sides. It was tough, mainly for Mexico. If it wasn’t bad enough for Mexico to compete in backto-back tournaments (Copa America), deal with injuries, and being obligated to win the Gold Cup; now they entered into the next round in a controversial fashion.

In this game, Panama followed Guatemala’s and Costa Rica’s strategy; play an ultradefensive game. Panama kept to its 4-4-2 formation for that purpose and for counter-attacks. The effects of this formation and other strategies took full effect later into the game.

One of Mexico’s problems is the fact that they have become quite predictable. Herrera’s 5-3-2 system was working wonders; especially in the World Cup. After sometime it stopped working for him. Then their less-than stellar performance in the Copa America took away from Mexico’s hype but heighten their Gold Cup expectations.

Earlier in the day, the reigning Gold Cup champions were eliminated in a stunning game. The underdogs got the best of the USMNT. Now, for the first time in CONCACAF history, a Caribbean team made it to the Final. By any chance, did the fact that Mexico might not meet their bitter rivals at the Final have effect in their performance? Probably not; still the Mexican side must have felt some disappointment knowing that the chance to beat their rivals in the final is not happening this time.

From the start of the whistle, the game had an ok start, at the very best. In the 3rd minute, Panama’s Adolfo Machado conceded a corner kick. Mexico was unable to score off this attempt, the game continued.

A minute later, Mexico’s Carlos Vela committed a foul and earned himself a yellow card. It wasn’t all bad since Mexico started adding early pressure on Panama’s defense. Off another Mexican corner kick, Diego Reyes got in a right footed shot from the center of the box, but he ended up missing.

Ten minutes later, “El Maza” tried a through ball to Peralta, but he was caught offside. Paul Aguilar was able to get another shot at the 17th minute. Vela provided Aguilar with an assist, but Aguilar’s left footed shot from the right side of the box was saved.

Then, at the 25th minute, Mexico was given a golden ticket to victory. On an aerial challenge, both El Maza and Luis Tejada tried win possession. In the process, Tejada got his arm over El Maza’s face. While it’s clearly a foul, the referee gave Tejada a red card. What Tejada did was a foul at the very most. It didn’t stop there. Right after the red card, there was commotion for a few minutes before the game resumed. With the one man advantage, Mexico became the favorites to win the game; somewhat.

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Even with the disadvantage, Panama did not shift to a defensive role. The lack of consistency in Mexico’s offense also helped a lot. Near stoppage time, Valentin Pimentel nearly scored with a right footed shot from the right side of the box, but Memo was able to block the shot. Despite the fact that Mexico is just underwhelming, Memo is still doing a great job.

The first half ended with a free kick on Panama’s defensive half. It was almost a relief for the Mexican side.

The start of the 2nd half wasn’t any different for either side. El Maza was once again fouled, but thankfully Armando Cooper did not get a red card. Two minutes later, Vela took a shot, but his attempt was a bit too high. Pretty much like the most of his attempts.

12 minutes into the half and Panama finally broke through. Román Torres scored with a header from the left side of the six yard box. It was surprising that Eric Davis wasn’t covered before his cross to Román.

A huge portion of the 2nd half consisted of a lot of fouls on behalf of both sides. Panama got another good chance to further their lead thanks to Roberto Nurse’s header off a cross from Davis; 25 minutes into the 2nd half.

It’s also quite understandable that Mexico was very frustrated this far into the game. For every free kick, goal kick, and throw-in; Panama took it’s time to set up. While it was smart on Panama’s side to run the clock, it was also done with signs of overconfidence. What happened? They paid the price towards the end.

Out of everyone on the field, Andres Guardado was the best player in this game. Panama’s side was doing really good as well; just running the clock was taking away from their solid performance. It was in the last ten minutes that the game went from sad to just straight up questionable and controversial.

Five minutes before stoppage time, Paul Aguilar tried to score with a header, the Galaxy goalie made an awesome save from the center of the box.

Then it happened. One minute before stoppage time, Mexico was awarded a penalty over a supposed handball. Carlos Esquivel (45 minute sub for Oswaldo Alanis) tried to maintain possession inside Panama’s box; after a through ball. Inside the box, Román got in a clean slide tackle on Esquivel. Off the slide tackle, Román got a light touch on the ball for a chip over themselves. With the momentum, Roman fell back down and unintentionally got a handball. What caused Román to get his hands on the ball was his own momentum from falling; not the intent to save the ball. This a worse call than the one against Roy Miller. Regardless, Mexico was rewarded a penalty kick.

Guardado was the man to take the shot. You could see it in his and his whole body, there was an inner conflict on whether he should attempt to score or simply miss. Guardado knew that was an unfair call against Panama. Either ways he went through with it and scored. Before Guardado took the kick, a brawl between both benches took place. That was a contributing factor to how Guardado approached this.

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At the 103rd minute, Panama executed themselves. Roman and Machado sandwiched Javier Orozco inside their box. In comparison to the first penalty, this was without a clear penalty. Orozco gained possession then Roman and Machado recklessly came in for tackles. Once again, the inner conflict was seen in Guardado. The commentators and several fans wanted Guardado to miss for the sake of Mexico’s dignity. No one wanted Mexico to advance to the final in this fashion. Guardado successfully scored the winning goal, but it wasn’t satisfying for the team. Coach Miguel Herrera usually celebrates goals with an explosion.

This time, his expression said it all. He was disappointed with how this game turned out. He looked like a defeated man. This is where the investigation against CONCACAF continues. The refereeing was so bad to the point in which referee Mark Geiger had to be escorted out of the field due to the teams and fans.

With this horrendous game over, Mexico advanced to the final to meet Jamaica. In the final, Mexico needs to play completely differently. Knowing that Mexico didn’t deserve to make it to the final is sad for those that humbly accept Mexico’s weak performance.

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Photo: www.goal.com, www.usatoday.com

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