After struggling through the group phase, Mexico and Costa Rica will battle to keep their Gold Cup hopes alive in Sunday’s quarterfinal in New Jersey. Two of the leading contenders to take the Concacaf crown at the start of the competition, both were disappointing in finishing in second place in their group to bring about a head-to-head meeting that many will have expected to occur in the semifinals or even final.
Mexico, aiming to regain the Gold Cup, started well enough when blasting Cuba 6-0 in their opening game. But frustration then followed in a goalless draw against Guatemala before throwing away a 2-0 lead and then a 4-3 advantage deep into injury time to only draw a dramatic encounter with Trinidad and Tobago and lose the chance to finish top of their group.
The match also featured further injury trouble for a Mexico team that had already lost Héctor Moreno and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández ahead of the tournament. Forward Giovani dos Santos injured his left abductor muscle and was taken off at halftime, although he still has a chance of making the bench on Sunday.
But there is now huge pressure on manager Miguel Herrera. With the memories of his positive influence in leading Mexico into last year’s World Cup now faded, he faced criticism for a “B” squad’s early exit from the Copa America last month as well as issues away from the pitch. And following the draw with Trinidad, Mexican publication Record claimed that senior players were unhappy with Herrera’s leadership and had held a meeting to discuss the team’s situation without their coach present. Many players, however, later hit out against the story.
“We've supported the coaching staff at every moment,” goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said in the pre-match press conference, reports ESPN. “The group is committed, united and looking [to produce] what Miguel Herrera asks of us.”
Herrera’s counterpart also enters the high-stakes quarterfinal under significant scrutiny. Having been the top performing Concacaf side at the 2014 World Cup when reaching the quarterfinals, expectations were high that Costa Rica could make a real impact at the Gold Cup and interrupt the dominance of Mexico and the United States.
However since the departure as coach of Jorge Luis Pinto following last year’s achievements in Brazil, the team has struggled to replicate that form under the charge of Paulo Wanchope. Costa Rica are now winless in nine matches, which included three draws in the group stage, against Jamaica, El Salvador and Canada.
“We did not expect to face Mexico in the quarterfinals, but hey, if we want to be champions you have to face them,” Wanchope told Costa Rican publication La Nacion. “We must now and we are convinced that we have the qualities to win.”
The two teams’ most recent meeting came just before the Gold Cup when Mexico battled back from a 2-0 half-time deficit to secure a 2-2 draw, thanks to a switch of formation to four at the back. On Sunday, though, Herrera has revealed that he will stick with the five at the back he reverted to against Trinidad. The one personnel change for Mexico will see Oribe Peralta replace the injured Dos Santos up front.
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, Univision Deportes