El Tri wins unconvincingly, advances to Nations League final showdown vs Team USA

Sharpshooting Mexico makes most of its opportunities, holds off Panama's late surge

Edson  pumps his fist after scoring the first goal in Mexico's 3-0 victory over Panama in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals. El Tri moves on to face Team USA in Sunday's final.
Edson pumps his fist after scoring the first goal in Mexico's 3-0 victory over Panama in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals. El Tri moves on to face Team USA in Sunday's final. / Omar Vega/GettyImages

Team Mexico demonstrated how to make a 3-0 victory appear underwhelming on Thursday night, advancing to the Concacaf Nations League final where an equally unimpressive U.S. team awaits.

El Tri did just enough to get past a Panama side that outplayed Jimmy Lozano’s team most of the second half at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. Mexico got all six of its shots on target to offset a sub-par performances from several players.

Earlier, Team USA avoided a stunning upset thanks to a fluke own-goal by a Jamaica defender deep into stoppage time then scored twice more in overtime to advance to its third straight Nations League final with a 3-1 win.

The two Concacaf giants are ranked in the FIFA top 15 (USA at #13, EL Tri at #15) but neither played well against mediocre opposition (Jamaica ranked 57th and Panama 44th).

El Tri suffers game-long fade after solid start

From the opening whistle, Mexico had Panama on its heels, pressing the attack and finding space behind the defense.

From a minute 9 free kick taken by Luis Chávez, Edson Álvarez shook off his marker and rose above the crowd to thump a header toward goal but Orlando Mosquera's reflex save guided the shot over the crossbar.

Three times in the first half-hour, Uriel Antuna was sprung free down the right flank and the Cementeros man muffed all three cross attempts, failing to get the ball past the first defender each time.

Despite the ineffectiveness, Mexico was controlling possession (67% through the first 35 minutes), patiently probing the Panama defense but that was the high-water mark. By halftime, possession was down to 59%, it slid to 46% by minute 70 and Los Canaleros finished the game with 59%.

In the final 15 minutes of the first half, the Central Americans started to string passes together, exploiting poor play on the wings and testing Guillermo Ochoa with regularity (Panama outshot Mexico 18-6 on the night).

Three minutes of inspiration make all the difference

In minute 40, Chávez took another free kick from the left side, the ball soaring over a scrum of players in the box to the back post where Álvarez met the cross, bouncing a header into the far-side netting.

Before Panama could shake off the disappointment, Henry Martín found his América teammate Julián Quiñones wide left. Quiñones cut inside a defender inside the box then swiftly slotted home at the near post. VAR was asked to take a look but Quiñones was deemed to be onside.

El Tri went into the locker room up 2-0, Panama trudging off the pitch, shoulders slumped.

Six minutes after the restart, the Central Americans asked Ochoa a serious question and the El Tri goalie came up with a huge save

Ochoa made another nice save in minute 58, palming aside a rocket from the left foot of Puma Rodríguez. The Salernitana man would go on to make five saves, his clean sheet preserved when Cecilio Waterman powered a header into the net only to see it ruled out for offside.

In minute 67, defender César Montes sent a long ball that beat Panama's offside trap. Sub Orbelín Pineda brought it down deftly just outside the box and, in one motion, chipped a flatfooted Mosquera who was caught in no-man's land.

Even down 3-0, Panama continued to press the attack as El Tri struggled to resist the onslaught, but poor clearances, sloppy passing and lax defense made it difficult to tell who had the upper hand.

Throwing everything forward, the Central Americans left themselves open to the counter, but Mexico squandered three glorious chances to extend the lead.

Sub "Chucky" Lozano flubbed a 1-on-1 with the goalie then wasted a 4-on-3 breakout by taking an ill-advised shot from a sharp angle. Moments later, Antuna muffed a wide-open 2-on-1 break, dribbling a pass right to the lone defernder.

With the victory, Mexico extended its unbeaten streak against Panama to 15 games. Lozano & Co won't have much time to savor the win, however. Team USA – the two-time defending Nations League champions – awaits, eager to continue its dominance over El Tri.


The Americans have manhandled Mexico of late, boasting a 4-2-0 record (with a 10-3 goal differential) since last losing to their southern neighbors. The Yanks have eliminated El Tri in each of the previous Nations League tournaments, besting Mexico 3-2 in a thrilling overtime final in 2020 and sending Diego Cocca into the unemployment line by routing Team Azteca in the 2023 semifinal.