If Mexico go onto to lift the Gold Cup for an unprecedented 10th time on Sunday and earn a playoff with the United States for a much coveted spot at the 2017 Confederations Cup, it’s fair to say that they won’t have done it the easy way. While the fallout continues from their remarkably controversial semifinal win over Panama, Mexico’s rocky path to a matchup with surprise package Jamaica at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, stretches far beyond that performance.
Even ahead of the tournament, Mexico’s preparations were hardly ideal having taken a “B’ squad to the Copa America last month which went onto flop badly in Chile. Already coming under pressure, coach Miguel Herrera then lost defensive lynchpin Héctor Moreno and key forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández to injuries on the eve of the tournament. While the Gold Cup stated with an encouraging 6-0 drubbing of Cuba, it was to prove a false dawn.
Frustration in a scoreless result with Guatemala and then incredulity at twice throwing away a lead in a 4-4 draw with Trinidad and Tobago was to follow, before two knockout matches in which the officials provided a massive helping hand.
For all Mexico benefited from a highly debatable penalty award in the last minute of extra time, there had actually been signs of an improvement in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. But there were no such caveats to the fortunate extra-time victory over Panama. It was achieved only after their opponents had been harshly reduced to 10 men for the majority of the contest and Mexico had been given a chance to equalize from the spot in the dying minutes. Even in Mexico, there was a sense of embarrassment about the win, and they go into the final without the suspended Carlos Vela and still unsure about the fitness of fellow forward Giovani dos Santos.
The feelings could not be more different for their opponents on Sunday. Jamaica clamed a spot in its first ever Gold Cup final after producing a superb performance to upset holders the United States in the first semifinal in Atlanta on Wednesday. The Reggae Boyz had not even reached a semifinal of the Concacaf tournament since 1998, the same year that they went to the World Cup for the first and only time.
But, with a squad heavily reliant on players who ply their trade in MLS and in the lower leagues in England, Jamaica have exceeded expectations under wily veteran German coach Winfried Schäfer. The man who led Cameroon to the African Cup of Nations title in 2002 insists his ambitions have not yet been satiated.
“I remember I told you we wanted more and we wanted to go to Philadelphia,” he said following the win over the U.S., reports the Jamaica Observer. “I am very proud of my team today, of what they have done from the first minute to the last. They went over the limit, but we are not finished yet as we have one match more.”
Jamaica have only beaten Mexico twice in 19 attempts, but they do have recent memories of causing great frustration to the Concacaf giants. In qualifying for the last World Cup, Jamaica went to the famed Estadio Azteca and caused a sizable surprise by holding Mexico to a goalless draw. The result was to prove the beginning of the end for then coach José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre. If Jamaica can upset Mexico again on Sunday, it could very well be the final nail in the coffin for Herrera.
Time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision, Univision Deportes