Back On Top!!!

by Luis Eduardo Flores

After two months of struggles, Mexico finally did it. Tonight, Mexico won its 7th CONCACAF Gold Cup.

When Mexico was knocked out of the Copa America, the team shifted its full focus onto the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Due to the heavy criticism, Mexico was obligated to win the Gold Cup. In preparation for the Gold Cup, Mexico lost several players due to injury; most notably Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Regardless of the situation, the team moved forward.

As part of Group C, Mexico had to face Cuba, Guatemala, and Trinidad & Tobago. On paper, this was supposed to be an easy group for Mexico; if anything, the easiest group. This meant unleashing a fury of goals on their opponents. Mexico started their Gold Cup journey with a 6-0 slaughter of Cuba. The signs of struggle presented themselves in the next games.

In Mexico’s game against Guatemala, Mexico had to settle for a 0-0 draw against a relatively weak team. Mexico then had to deal with a very strong and determined Trinidad & Tobago. Mexico’s game against T&T was their most exciting game, if anything; in the whole tournament. T&T gave Mexico a run for their money; bringing down the CONCACAF titans down to a 4-4 draw.

Mexico’s worst moments came in the next two rounds. Their semi-final match against Costa Rica was expected to be tough; for both sides. While the match was difficult for Mexico as expected; their quality of play was awful. The fact that Mexico had to settle for a controversial penalty to secure a spot in the next round was just despicable. Who knows, maybe it could have been Costa Rica in the final; if match had gone to a penalty shootout.

Mexico’s low-point continued in their match against Panama. Panama was at an early disadvantage due to controversial red card on their captain at the 25th minute. Mexico was unable to score throughout the whole game until crunch time. In the closing minutes of the game, Mexico was given an undeserved and highly controversial penalty. Another penalty was awarded a few minutes later; which was actually a good call. Pretty much, Mexico won on two penalties in the last moments of the game. Two victories with three consecutive penalties; those were the tickets to the final. With the loss, Panama went on to beat the USMNT for third place.

Sure, Mexico’s recent performances put them against the wall, but their Gold Cup encounters against Jamaica gave them a historical advantage. Mexico and Jamaica have faced each other a total of five games (1991, 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2005); all of which were easily won by Mexico.

Both teams stuck to their standard formations for this game; 5-3-2 for Mexico and 4-4-2 for Jamaica.

The game had a slow start. Neither team wanted to be the early aggressor, which was completely understandable. For Mexico, the key for victory was to return to basics. That meant no one-on-ones, frequent through balls, and desperation shots. As for Jamaica, they needed to use their height to their advantage; since Mexico is weak in their aerial game.

The pace started to pick up at the 7th minute, after a foul by Mexico’s Jesús Dueńas (yellow card). Rodolph Austin’s free kick from outside the box was close, but his right footed shot missed. Luckily for the Mexican defense, they didn’t have to worry too much about the Jamaican offense for a while.

Jamaica was strong with possession the early parts of the 1st half; yet they didn’t take advantage of it. It didn’t take Mexico too long to put pressure on the Reggae Boyz.

At the 19th minute, Andres Guardado got in a header from the left side of box; the shot was close, but it went to the left. Three minutes later, Miguel Layun got more offense going with a right footed shot that ended up being blocked. Dueńas tried to follow up after an assist by Guardado. Dueńas shot was also blocked.

Jamaica put themselves in trouble again at the 23rd and 24th minute marks. Both Jobi McAnuff and Je-Vaughn Watson (yellow card) committed fouls to give Paul Aguilar and Guardado free kicks. Mexico was unable to convert the free kicks into goals; even so, Jamaica shouldn’t take those huge risks.

Jamaica almost got back into the game when they were able to break into Mexico’s defensive half. Even with Jamaica in Mexico’s defensive half, Mexico prevailed. Guardado was fouled on their attacking half by Austin (yellow card). With the foul, Mexico was awarded a free kick. Following a set piece situation, Guardado scored with a left footed shot from the center of box to the top left corner thanks to Aguilar’s assist. Guardado has been doing an excellent as the team’s captain. Given Mexico’s latest performances, no one would have been well suited to lead the team.

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Even though Jamaica was behind by a goal, they refused to go down. Houston Dynamo’s Giles Barnes was still really dangerous when they got into Mexico’s defensive half.

Towards the end of the 1st half, Jamaica kept pushing for their first goal. Shades of Mexico’s last two games presented themselves. First, Austin fouled El Maza. The strength of the foul constituted a yellow card, but only a foul was called. Then at the 43rd minute, Jesus Corona (“El Tecatito”) was strongly elbowed by Austin. Austin’s elbow on Corona was also a clear foul that was not called. At least the Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar was not awarding Mexico penalties.

By the end of the 1st half, statistically Mexico had a bigger advantage than the one goal lead. In comparison to Jamaica’s 44.6% possession, Mexico had 55.4% possession. Both teams were even in one-on-one duels and aerial duels (50%). Jamaica managed only one shot which was off-target. Mexico was slightly better. They had a total of eight shots, with only two of them being on-target; giving them a shot accuracy of 25%. Their passing game was a lot better; with the exception of their long passes. In total Mexico made 128 passes, with a pass accuracy of 85.2% to Jamaica’s 108 passes and 74.1% accuracy.

The Mexico that we are used to watching woke up in this match. Even with the absences of Javier Hernandez, Giovanni dos Santos, and Carlos Vela, Mexico did a whole lot better than expected. The communication and execution that Mexico was missing in their previous games had awakened.

It took Mexico two minutes into the 2nd half to further their lead and dominance over the Jamaican side. Jesus Corona obtained possession after a failed interception by Michael Hector. It was actually quite embarrassing to see how Hector botched an easy interception only for Corona make an easy steal to score.

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Jamaica got some offense going at the 52nd minute after El Maza conceded a corner kick. Off the corner, Simon Dawkins nor Jobi McAnuff were able to score. As the game progressed, the Jamaican side was still strong, but their best efforts weren’t enough to create chances. While it’s true that Jamaica is one of the tournament’s best teams, the team wasn’t strong enough to take down Mexico like they did against the United States. Then again, the US didn’t really have the best team either.

Throughout the game, you can see that Jamaica wasn’t Mexico’s toughest opponent. That award goes to Panama. The Jamaican team was simply outclassed by a team that finally snapped out of a dormant state of not playing good.

Oribe Peralta made it 3-0 at the 61st minute, after a Jamaican substitution. Once again, Hector’s awful defending allowed Peralta to score. Aguilar made it up the field and tried a cross to Peralta. Hector technically got possession, as the ball got caught between his legs for a brief second. He simply reacted so slowly to the chance to clear the ball.

Mexico got more offense going, even with the three goal advantage. Layun and Corona tried to further Mexico’s lead at the 67th minute. Jamaica’s goalie was there to make sure that the humiliation didn’t sink even deeper.

Jamaica got themselves on the scoreboard with ten minutes left, thanks to McAnuff and Darren Mattocks. McAnuff provided Mattocks with a through ball and Mattacks was able to make quick work of El Maza to score. That was a pretty awesome goal. The question here is not why El Maza was unsuccessful on preventing the goal; rather why was Jamaica unable to create chances like this earlier in the game? The answer is Rodolph Austin. He did nearly nothing beneficial for his team. He was unproductive and dangerous for his own team.

In the last ten minutes, both teams tried to get another goal in. For Jamaica, they were probably looking for two more, even with the little bit of time that they had. At least they weren’t looking for those goals with penalties in mind.

In Mexico’s last attack, Jamaica’s Kemar Lawrence conceded a corner kick; which Mexico didn’t score on. They didn’t need it, either ways. To end the game, Michael Seaton won a free kick in Jamaica’s defensive half.

Mexico overall was the dominate team from beginning to end. Mexico held 60.3% possession, 28.6% shot accuracy (Jamaica 0%), and 84.8% accuracy on 123 passes.

After so many struggles and the recent controversy, Mexico finally won their first Gold Cup since 2011. While the championship victory doesn’t erase the controversy, their performance in this match showed us that they are able to overcome everything that the fans and media throw at them. We now have to wait until October 9th to see who will qualify for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup; the US or Mexico.
The debate on whether if Costa Rica or Panama would have made it to the final will remain, no matter what. What is soccer without a little bit of controversy and debate on the side?

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Photo: zimbio.com, mlssoccer.com, worldsoccertalk.com.

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