Golden! Late-game substitute Santi Giménez delivers for Mexico

Santi Giménez exults after scoring the game-winner for El Tri in the Gold Cup final against Panama.(Photo by RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images)
Santi Giménez exults after scoring the game-winner for El Tri in the Gold Cup final against Panama.(Photo by RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images) /
El Tri Gold Cup
El Tri captain Guillermo Ochoa holds up the Golden Glove trophy he won after being named the Outstanding Goalie of the 2023 Gold Cup. (Photo by RINGO CHIU/AFP via Getty Images) /

El Tri claimed its record ninth Gold Cup Sunday with a tense 1-0 victory over Panama, the game-winning goal coming in minute 88 off the left foot of sub Santi Giménez.

Panama played a gritty match, displaying the same poise and discipline that helped the Central Americans knock out the USA – the defending champs – in the semifinals.

Team Mexico opened the final looking confident, pressing the attack during the first 10 minutes. Panama held its shape and soon tilted the field, moving forward smoothly behind the slick passing of Adalberto Carrasquilla.

As “Los Canaleros” sustained possession and passed the ball slickly through and around the El Tri defense, frustration – and even a bit of panic – arose among the Mexicans.

El Tri sees goal ruled out, holds firm

In minute 33, Mexico thought it had taken the lead.

Goalie Memo Ochoa booted a long ball that Henry Martín got his head on. Uriel Antuna chased it down and knocked it to Orbelín Pineda who surveyed the field before feeding Luis Romo on the right flank. Romo sent a perfectly weighed cross into the box where Martín met the ball and thumped it into the roof from 7 meters out.

Unfortunately as Martín made his run into the box he was slightly offside when Romo made the pass.

Still, Mexico seemed to get a lift from the play and steadied the ship. The two teams traded punches the rest of the half, with Mexico getting off more shots (14 to 6) and forcing two splendid saves by Orlando Mosquera just before the break.

Intensity rises as teams trade rushes

Carrasquilla and the Panama midfield opened the second half with aplomb, pushing the ball effectively into the Mexican defensive third.

For its part, El Tri’s passing in their offensive half was erratic and the swarming Central Americans restricted Mexico’s chances to long shots while also blocking quite a few shots themselves.

The steady play of central defenders César Montes and Johan Vásquez prevented Panama from getting clear sight of goal. Along with midfielders Edson Álvarez and Romo, the El Tri defense limited their rivals to just two shots on goal on the night.

Ochoa’s toughest test came in minute 71 when Carrasquilla sent a through pass to Iván Anderson. The Panamanian right back was denied at point-blank range and Ochoa blocked a second shot off the rebound but both stops were erased from the stat book since Anderson was offside.

Coach Jaime Lozano finally made his first changes in minute 75 (a little bit late for this observer’s liking) and El Tri started to sustain the initiative, buzzing around the Panama box though rarely forcing much of an effort from Mosquera between the pipes.

In minute 85, Lozano subbed in Giménez in place of an exhausted Martín and the 22-year-old Feyenoord man paid dividends shortly thereafter.

Anderson nutmegged Mexico’s left back Jesús Gallardo and cut toward the box deep on the right side, sending in a low cross defined for a sea of Panamanian legs. A hustling Álvarez cut out the pass and Pineda picked up the loose ball and carried it out of danger before bundling the ball forward to Giménez just across midfield with his back to goal.

Santi touched the ball twice with his right foot while turning left then cut back across his body to his left foot and he was off to the races. Three dribbles later and “El Bebote” was inside the box whereupon he clipped a left-footed chip shot that dribbled inside the right post, sending the SoFi Stadium crowd into pandemonium.

El Tri Gold Cup Panama
Guillermo Ochoa hoists the Gold Cup trophy – Mexico ninth – after El Tri defeated Panama on Sunday night, (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

El Tri was able to see out the win after that and captain Ochoa hoisted Mexico’s record ninth Gold Cup trophy, two more than Team USA.

The win provides Mexico’s interim coach Jimmy Lozano with a nice piece of silverware to add to his résumé as he applies for the permanent job. That decision will probably come in August, but Lozano’s biggest supporters are the players who he led to Concacaf glory, turning around the team’s fortunes after the Nations League fiasco.

Trivia and fun facts

Mexico was playing in its third consecutive Gold Cup final, defeating Team USA 1-0 in Chicago in 2019 and losing by the same score to the same team in 2021 in Las Vegas.

Mexico’s Ochoa earned his record fifth Gold Cup winner’s medal. Sunday’s triumph allowed Memo to break a tie with Concacaf legends Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, both of Team USA.

Next. Debutantes, debut goals and other firsts. dark

Ochoa also earned his 25th Gold Cup cap on Sunday, breaking a tie with his predecessor as skipper, Andrés Guardado. The game was the 139th for Memo – the most-ever for a Mexico goalie – and the result was his 61st shutout.