Mexico will need no reminder of the threat Panama pose to their chances of securing a third-straight Gold Cup title when the two sides meet in the semifinal at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday. It was the Canaleros that inflicted further misery on Mexico and their manager Jose Manuel de la Torre right at the start of the Concacaf championship with an upset 2-1 win.
At that point, De la Torre appeared to be hanging onto his job by his fingertips, but since then his side have recovered somewhat to record three straight victories. But Mexico have hardly silenced their doubters with their performances, not least in a quarterfinal over Trinidad and Tobago when it wasn’t until an 84th minute striker from Raul Jimenez that the deadlock was broken.
Yet, De la Torre continued to be outspoken against his critics after the 1-0 win. “You don't like it? We saw a different game," he said, according to the Associated Press. "That's what I can tell you. Every time we win, we have to enjoy it. A win is a win, but that is enough. We always have to fix things but we also did a lot of great things tonight."
De la Torre is also adamant that he has witnessed an improvement in what is a second-string squad during the competition. "I have seen the team little by little,” he explained, reports the Concacaf website. “I've seen it improve, saw it get better. We are trying to correct certain mistakes, trying to see that are better at the individual. That gives the players confidence that there is improvement and that's accompanied by better results."
Panama could hardly come into the match in better spirits, having put Cuba to the sword, 6-1, in their quarterfinal on Saturday. Gabriel Torres scored twice in that contest to take his total for the Gold Cup to five, while his forward partner Blas Perez, who plays for FC Dallas, also hit a brace. But Panama coach Julio Dely Valdes is not reading too much into their recent victory against Mexico and remembers all too well what happened in similar circumstances in the 2011 Gold Cup.
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"We faced the United States on two occasions," he recalled. "We won the first and the second time around [in the semifinals] was the one that killed us. To play a game in the group stage has nothing to do with the semifinal match. The semifinal match is to win or to lose. It is to defeat or to die. We have to try to be the most perfect that we can. We have to try to be our best because the slightest error could leave us out of the competition."
D: Layun, Huiqui, Valenzuela, Aldrete
M: Fabian, Pena, Castro, Montes
F: Jimenez, Marquez Lugo
D: Parris, Torres, Chen, Rodriguez
M: Sanchez, Godoy, Gomez, Quintero
F: Perez, Torres
Prediction: This promises to be another extremely uncomfortable match for De la Torre. There appear fundamental problems under his command, not least with his overly conservative approach. As Trinidad and Tobago occasionally showed up, things are also not great defensively and Perez and Torres could certainly have some joy. Ultimately, though, El Tri should squeak through to the final, although it may even require extra time to get there.
Mexico 2-1 Panama
Where to watch: The Gold Cup semifinal will kick-off at 10 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Fox Soccer Channel, Unimas and Univision Deportes, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2 Go and Univision.com.