It’s been a weird Gold Cup thus far. The group stage, which concluded with Mexico’s tight 2-0 win over Curacao on Sunday night, has been a carnival of unexpected results.
Only once has a country not named Mexico or the United States won this regional championship, held biennially in its current incarnation since 1991. That dominance has extended to off years, like this one, when the tournament overlapped with World Cup qualifying and was consequently populated by B-teams.
Going in, there were two towering favorites, with Mexico probably edging the United States for its superior depth right now. Costa Rica, the third-seeded team, might conceivably sweep in if something weird happened.
Weird things have happened. The Americans came out flat in a tie against Panama, barely beat the semi-pros from Martinique and required a late goal to make it 3-0 against feckless Nicaragua and win the group by a hair — on the second tie-breaker, goals scored.
Mexico, meanwhile, ran roughshod over El Salvador but then tied Jamaica 0-0 in one of the sleepiest games in memory. On Sunday in San Antonio, winless and goalless Curacao could very well have won against an El Tri side trying to win a fourth Gold Cup in five editions.
Because this slapdash Mexico team continues to struggle for some semblance of cohesion. With manager Juan Carlos Osorio serving the third of his six-game sideline ban, his team once again looked disjointed for long stretches of the game until Mexico wrested control late but refused to notch an insurance goal until injury time. So Angel Sepulveda’s 22nd-minute winner stood alone on the scoring sheet, until 19-year-old Edson Alvarez finally broke the tension in the 91st minute with his first international goal.
That wasn’t for a lack of chances on either side though, with both teams proving profligate in front of the opposing net.
Curacao, ranked 68th in the world by FIFA and 158th by ELO, actually threatened first with a few warning shots. Leandro Bacuna, meanwhile, of Aston Villa fame, was denied a seemingly legitimate penalty.
Gino van Kessel was denied well by Jose Corona on the low finish after the strong setup by Bacuna.
But, quite against the run of play, Mexico went ahead. Sepulveda’s header to the far post from the long cross by Raul Lopez was placed immaculately and there wasn’t much Eloy Room could do about it.
Mexico seemed heartened by its goal. But early in the second half, it was nonetheless Curacao that looked like it would find an equalizer imminently. Corona came up with a few enormous saves. Most acutely on van Kessel, which was followed by Gevaro Nepomuceno ramming a shot off the bar from distance.
After the hour, Mexico had worn its opponents down and feasted on a smorgasbord of good chances to put the game away. But Room was consistently equal to the finishes — when they were even on target.
Finally, in injury time, Edson Alvarez found himself in a huge pocket of space in Curacao’s box and then one-on-one with Room. He placed his shot well to put the game away at last.
The Mexican victory meant that, as expected, El Tri avoids the U.S. in the quarterfinals and, potentially, until the final. There had been a mutually disastrous scenario where a multi-goal loss to the Antillean islanders would have meant a U.S.-Mexico quarterfinal.
Instead, both of the regional juggernauts advance without much damage to anything but their confidence and egos. Things haven’t looked pretty, but they are on track all the same. The U.S. is making six changes before its quarterfinal with El Salvador on Wednesday, bringing in a series of reinforcements from the A-team like goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfield captain Michael Bradley. Mexico might yet do the same.
And maybe we’ll actually see one of these teams demonstrate that they deserve — and want — to win this thing.
Source: Leander Schaerlaeckens| Yahoo