Mexico may already be through to the Gold Cup quarterfinals, but Wednesday’s final group game meeting with Trinidad and Tobago will have a significant impact on El Tri’s route to the final. A victory means a meeting with Panama in the last eight, and a draw will mean last year’s World Cup quarterfinalists Costa Rica will be the opposition, while a defeat could mean an earlier meeting than anyone envisaged against bitter foes and holders the United States.
For a team still attempting to play its way into form, the stakes are high. After cruising to a 6-0 win against a Cuba side in disarray, Mexico came back down to earth with a frustrating scoreless outcome against Guatemala on Sunday. The result means El Tri enter the final round of games in Group C two points behind Trinidad and needing a win to top the group. A defeat in Charlotte, however, could, in conjunction with a win for Guatemala over Cuba, see Mexico drop to third and face an unwelcome quarterfinal with the U.S. and with a quick turnaround to Saturday.
Already coming into the tournament under pressure following a group-stage exit for the “B squad" he took to the Copa America, these are critical times for Miguel Herrera. Much has been made of the decision to switch to a 4-4-2 ahead of the Gold Cup, with star Porto central midfielder Hector Herrera moving to the right flank. But the coach has suggested that he has been happy with the overall performances so far and there will not be major changes against Trinidad. Indeed, Herrera spent much of his pre-match press conference lamenting what he saw as the officials’ failure to deal with Guatemala’s physical approach.
“After reviewing the video, you see that Carlos Vela gets nine fouls committed against him and no yellow card,” he said, via the Mexican Federation website. “The rules are very clear about punishing repeated fouls on the same player. We are now aware how it will be.”
Mexico similarly struggled against an aggressive, defensive-minded approach from Honduras in a goalless draw ahead of the tournament. But Herrera is anticipating a more free-flowing contest against Trinidad.
“[It will] hopefully be a much more open game,” he said. “I have not seen them kicking, they have tried to play. I do not know whether or not they will lock down on defense.”
For Trinidad, their performance thus far already represents a success, having made it to the Gold Cup quarterfinals for just the third time since achieving their best finish of runners-up in 1973. Despite coming into the competition on an unimpressive four-game losing streak, the team coached by former Canada manager Stephen Hart have recorded back-to-back victories over Guatemala and Cuba.
Trinidad, though, will be shorthanded for what is a chance to avenge their loss to Mexico in the quarterfinals two years ago. Goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams is ruled out with a hamstring strain, while midfielder Andre Boucaud is suspended having picked up two yellow cards. It’s also possible that some or all of the four players, including striker Kenwyne Jones, carrying a booking into to match could be rested to avoid the possibility of missing out on the quarterfinal. Yet Hart has stressed that the match with Mexico still carries plenty of significance.
“It’s still an important match because we don’t get to play teams of Mexico’s quality very often so when matches like these come around, we have to make use of it and by that I mean we will test our ability,” he said, reports the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian. “We will also use this as an opportunity to prepare against a top team from our region for what’s to come later down the road in the World Cup qualification.”
Kickoff time: 8:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: UniMás, Univision Deportes, Fox Sports 2