Two second-half goals lifted a sluggish Team Mexico to a 2-0 victory over a plucky Costa Rica side, the win sending El Tri to the Gold Cup semifinals.
Orbelín Pineda scored from the penalty spot in minute 52 and Mexico gradually leaned forward, gaining in confidence after the late-game changes by coach Jimmy Lozano.
Santi Giménez and Erick Sánchez came on in minute 70 and the tide soon turned. The two teamed up with sub Roberto Alvarado (84’) to produce a fantastic goal, sealing the deal in minute 87.
Giménez survived a double team along the left sideline and pushed a lead pass to Alvarado who weaved into the box, scanned the defense and dropped off a centering pass to a fast-charging Sánchez who bundled it into the net. A golazo and El Tri was up 2-0.
Post-game chalk talk for El Tri
Mexico’s performance against world No. 42 Costa Rica was underwhelming. For the first hour of the match, El Tri lacked focus, appeared indecisive with the ball and was sloppy in its offensive third. It was all too reminiscent of the team’s indifferent performance against Qatar in the final group-stage match.
Henry Martín was ineffective, Pineda was getting dispossessed too easily and right wing Uriel Antuna was skittish. Fortunately, Pineda made no mistake when he stepped up to take a penalty earned by Martín and the AEK Athens man made it 1-0 Mexico.
Though El Tri was its own worst enemy going forward, Mexico was strong down the middle on defense.
The pairing of Johan Vásquez and César Montes was reunited for the first time since they won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. And they show promise of becoming a formidable back line.
Midfielders Edson Álvarez, Luis Romo and Luis Chávez were efficient though not up to standards. Chávez was relatively silent all game, while Romo’s lapses with the ball outweighed his speculative lead passes that created a few unfulfilled opportunities.
Goalie Memo Ochoa faced only 1 shot on net, but it came in the 8th minute … and it was a huge save. Ochoa lunged at full stretch to block an Anthony Contreras worm-burner destined for the far corner. The Salernitana keeper then scrambled to his feet and covered up the ball to prevent a follow-up shot.
Team Azteca fired 14 shots on the night, 8 of which were on target. Seven of those 8 came in the second half.
Costa Rica fell to 1-4-8 in Gold Cup matches against Mexico.
Sánchez now has 2 goals and 15 caps with El Tri. The Pachuca man lit up the Cowboys Stadium pitch with his hustle, on the ball and off. He and Romo and Álvarez began hunting in a pack, slowing down a Tico attack that often threatened but failed to finish.
Álvarez limped off in minute 89 with a knee complaint. We’ll have to wait and see if the Ajax midfielder is fit in time for Wednesday’s semifinal.
Coach Lozano is now 3-0-1 since taking over as interim coach. Even if he goes 5-0-1 and hoists the Gold Cup trophy, Jimmy is not guaranteed to remain on as El Tri manager.
I say, win the tournament and let the chips fall where they may. But that is easier said than done, especially with Jamaica and Team USA looming as rivals in the semis and final, respectively.
Mexico will remain in Dallas Sunday and fly to Las Vegas Monday for Wednesday’s match. The team’s rival will come from Sunday’s Guatemala-Jamaica quarterfinal match in Cincinnati.