El Mini Tri earns gold with scrappy 2-1 win over Costa Rica

Fidel Ambriz skippered Mexico to the top spot on the podium at the Central America & Caribbean Games. (Photo by Alvaro Medranda/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)
Fidel Ambriz skippered Mexico to the top spot on the podium at the Central America & Caribbean Games. (Photo by Alvaro Medranda/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images) /
Mexico gold medal
Gerardo Espinoza guided Mexico to a gold medal in the 2023 Central America & Caribbean Games. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Mexico Under-23 team is coming home from El Salvador with a gold medal as El Mini Tri defeated Costa Rica 2-1 in the final of the Central America & Caribbean Games.

Ettson Ayón scored twice and Gerardo Espinoza’s men held off a late charge from a Costa Rica side whose late-game bid for a draw was thwarted by defender Oscar Villa.

In minute 23, Eduardo Armenta (Tijuana) and Rodrigo Huescas (Cruz Azul) traded passes wide right until Huescas fired a low cross that winger Bryan González (Pachuca) fought for, forcing a Costa Rica player to mishandle the ball. Ayón (Querétaro) was first to react and he slammed the loose ball into the back of the net for the early lead

Costa Rica’s physical play started to take a toll even though ref Filiberto Martínez (Guatemala) got the calls right. Still, several of the fouls surely left bruises and were deserving of cautions. The Central Americans racked up a 12-5 advantage in fouls by the half with only one yellow card to show for it. The rough-and-tumble play continued in the second half.

Mexico wastes chance to extend its lead

El Mini Tri made better use of possession, carrying into the final third more often than their Central American rivals.

Unfortunately, playmaker Jordan Carrillo (Sporting Gijón) seemed more intent on showcasing his ball-handling skills instead of creating plays and demonstrating teamwork.

A defensive breakdown in minute 38 saw Costa Rica’s Alvaro Zamora get to the top of the box in the right channel. His low left-footed shot zipped just wide of the near post.

Two minutes later, a beautiful move into the box from the ride side culminated with a Carrillo pass to Ayón but his left-footer was blocked by the onrushing Tico goalie, Byron Mora.

Four minutes after the restart, Mora made a fantastic save, rushing off his line to smother a González shot after the Pachuca man fought through traffic and got off a shot from inside the penalty spot.

Ayón gets his brace

In minute 53, Mexico sprang a devastating counterattack that Ayón finished off following a perfect square pass from Armenta. The rush started with defender Rafa Guerrero (Cruz Azul) clearing a high ball out of the Mexico box, Rodrigo López (Querétaro) corralled the loose ball heading into the middle third then sent a long pass to Ayón who muscled past two defenders before sending a diagonal pass to Armenta running free down the left flank.

Just two minutes later, Costa Rica saw a goal correctly annulled for offside in minute 55, but the Ticos made no mistake in minute 63. Andrey Soto cut the Mexico lead in half with a lovely free kick from a sharp angle that clanged off the bottom of the back post and into the net.

Oscar Villa (León) took his star turn in minute 77, saving the day with a great hustle play. A clearance by goalie Eduardo García (Tapatío) was headed from the Costa Rica half over and behind the Mexico defense. Villa hustled back into the play from his left back position and flicked the ball away from Alejandro Bran who was trying to control the bouncing sphere. García latched onto the ball and Mexico fans breathed a sigh of relief.

Next. El Tri puts on dismal display, loses to Qatar. dark

Guerrero could have put the game away in minute 81, but his header off a corner kick from close range bounced wide. Mexico held steady though and saw out the game from there, earning its seventh Gold medal, the most in Central America & Caribbean Games history.