Mexico meet Panama at the Rose Bowl on Sunday to kick off their campaign in a Gold Cup that appeared largely inconsequential a matter of months ago, but has now grown significantly in importance, especially for coach Jose Manuel de la Torre. Unexpected struggles in World Cup qualifying combined with the little improvement shown at last month’s Confederations Cup has seen De la Torre under serious scrutiny.
There has been much talk of a golden generation for El Tri since claiming Olympic gold last year to follow up other successes for the country’s underage teams. But De la Torre has thus far failed to harness that talent into a cohesive unit both defensively and going forward. The pressure has not eased after Mexico lost their final warm up game for the Gold Cup to Liga MX side Queretaro.
“There are things that can’t happen in a competition because they send you out, they are basic [errors],” De la Torre said after the 3-2 loss, according to Goal.com. While the coach’s conservative nature has hampered the side’s creativity, defensive lapses have also become a worrying feature of late.
Mexico has taken at best a B side to the Concacaf championships with all players domestically-based. But there are seven players who featured in the Olympics and there is plenty for the young squad to play for, with places up for grabs going forward toward next year’s World Cup. “The objectives are clear: The main one is qualifying for Brazil 2014 and we will also look to win the Gold Cup,” De la Torre explained.
Their opponents in the Gold Cup opener, Panama, are still in contention to qualify for their first ever World Cup. However, defeats in their last two matches to Costa Rica and the United States leaves the side in sixth spot and still with plenty of work to do. Julio Dely Valdes’ outfit did, though, manage to secure a 0-0 draw with Mexico last month. Like Mexico, Panama have left some key players at home in Felipe Baloy, Luis Tejada and Armando Cooper.
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D: Layun, Lopez, Aldrete, Jiminez
Cortes, Fabian, Ponce
D: Rodriguez, Torres, Cummings, chen
M: Quintero, Sanchez, Godoy, Gomez
F: Blackburn, Perez
Prediction: Mexico could benefit from their weakened squad with many of the younger players, who De la Torre has been hesitant about blooding, now given a chance to impress. Marco Fabian has a real opportunity to show that he can be a much-needed creative force, while Jorge Enriquez and Carlos Pena will be more dynamic in the middle of the park than El Tri’s recent midfield pairings.
Panama have struggled for goals of late and that is unlikely to be helped by the absence of Tejada. Mexico should get off to a morale boosting win in a group that also features Canada and Martinique.
Mexico 2-0 Panama
Where to watch: The Gold Cup Group A match will kick-off from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. At 8.30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.