El Tri unconvincing as knockout games at hand

El Salvador gave Mexico fits but could not find a way through El Tri's defense. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
El Salvador gave Mexico fits but could not find a way through El Tri's defense. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
El Tri v El Salvador
Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez (#21) celebrates after scoring the eventual game-winner against El Salvador in minute 25. (Photo by ANDY JACOBSOHN/AFP via Getty Images) /

With the knockout stage of the Gold Cup looming on the horizon, El Tri looks anything but a title favorite.

The expectation that a solid showing could boost Mexico into the Top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings ahead of the World Cup qualifiers is now gone. The dream that a waltz through the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers could help claim a top seeding for Qatar 2022 has also dissipated.

Currently ranked No. 11 in the world, Mexico escaped the group stage in top spot, but it was anything but convincing. El Tri scored just 4 goals in its three group matches: a scoreless draw against Trinidad & Tobago (No. 103), a 3-0 win over Guatemala (No. 127) and a 1-0 victory over El Salvador (No. 69).

That kind of performance is not going to impress anybody.

El Tri awaits quarterfinals opponent

Mexico has time to lick its wounds until its next game on Saturday, though coach Gerardo Martino has plenty of work to do. No doubt, the horrific injury suffered by “Chucky” Lozano only 10 minutes into the first game of the Gold Cup took a toll on the team’s psyche, but that does not explain the poor performances.

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Errant passing has been a regular feature of Mexico’s games, and there have been few incisive first-time passes. It is possible to count on one hand the number of dangerous crosses into the box by El Tri, and dribbling into double-teams is getting to be a habit for some players.

“Tata” has stubbornly stuck with his preferred line-up (minus Chucky) even though some players would seem to have played themselves out of the starting team. In a bit of a Catch-22, Martino likely didn’t want to experiment with his line-up since the games remained tight, but the performances of several players begged for subs to be given a chance.

El Tri will not know its rival until after Tuesday night’s group stage finales, with Qatar (ranked No. 58) the likely quarterfinals opponent. The brackets pair Mexico with the Group D runner-up and Qatar faces Honduras with the top spot on the line.

A Qatar win would send Honduras against El Tri, while a draw or a Honduras win sends next year’s World Cup hosts into a meeting with the Concacaf “giants.” There is the remote chance that Panama could emerge as the Group D runner-up, but the Canaleros would have to defeat Grenada by a 3-0 score while Qatar loses 2-0 to Honduras. A possibility, yes, but …

Four teams are locked into bracket spots thus far: Mexico, El Salvador, the United States and Canada. Honduras is also assured of a place in the quarterfinals, while Costa Rica and Jamaica are both in and will square off to determine first and second place in Group C.

Americans finish top of Group A, eye final vs El Tri

Team USA took top spot in Group B with a perfect 3-0-0 record (8 goals for, 1 goal against), culminating their group performance with a 1-0 win over Canada.

The U.S. scored 25 seconds after kick-off and the goal stood up as Gregg Berhalter’s men foiled Canada’s attack by dropping back and playing off the counter.

The Maple Leafs came into the final group game needing only a draw to claim top spot, but they could not find the net, thwarted by a parked red-white-and-blue bus and solid goaltending by Matt Turner.

It did appear as if Canada twice had genuine penalty complaints but Mexican ref Adonai Escobedo waved off the appeals in both instances.

Next. Holders Cruz Azul set to defend Liga MX title. dark

The United States will face the loser of Tuesday night’s Costa Rica-Jamaica battle on Sunday night. The Ticos finish in first with a draw or a win, and would move on to a quarterfinal clash against Canada. A Jamaica win in Orlando would allow The Reggae Boyz to avoid the Stars-and-Stripes and send them to face Canada.