Canada had an upset in their sights coming into this one against Mexico but they were certainly hampered when it came to team selection. Before the Gold Cup began, all the talk was about the plethora of attacking options at John Herdman’s disposal, that has since changed drastically. Ayo Akinola of Toronto is now out injured, the same going for Cyle Larin whilst Vancouver’s Lucas ‘El Tanque’ Cavallini is suspended. Joining Cavallini in the stands is captain Steven Vitoria who also picked up another yellow in the win over Costa Rica.
Meanwhile, Tata Martino has made just one change to his Mexico side that beat Honduras 3-0. Nestor Araujo of Celta Vigo drops out and he is replaced by Carlos Salcedo, a change to a back five in store. The recent and sad news that the father of Gio and Jonathan Dos Santos has passed away hasn’t prevented the latter from playing in this one, but of course his Galaxy teammate Chicharito is back in LA. Talking of the Galaxy though and Efrain Alvarez is tied down to Mexico after running out for them earlier in this tournament, he began this one on the bench. Plus Chucky Lozano is of course, still absent after suffering that nasty injury in the disappointing opener against T&T.
The absence of superstar for Alphonso Davies has allowed New England’s Tajon Buchanan to come to the fore even more so. He has been one of the best players in this whole tournament and in all honesty, he’s just carrying across his club form under Bruce Arena to when he’s playing for Canada. His attacking exploits were completely nullified in the early stages though as Mexico dominated the ball, Funes Mori and Hector Herrera having half-chances denied easily by Maxime Crepeau. Didn’t take long for tensions to flare up too!
Richie Laryea went flying down the left and in on goal, the Mexico keeper did well to thwart the oncoming Toronto man but the pace of the two wide men looked to be the only hope for Canada in this one.
El Tri showed what we already knew, that they had the far superior talent and quality on the field. You can’t win a tournament or even a game on talent alone though and so for all their flair, the heart and desire of Canada spoke equally loud volumes.
There were some early little skirmishes and there was one huge mess just before the break. Mexico had what looked to be a certain penalty not given plus Funes-Mori was being chopped at in the build-up, a challenge moments later out on the sideline leading to a multitude of players getting involved in some pushing and shoving. Just like in the much more tame USA vs Qatar game, a VAR intervention sees a penalty given.
The sliding tackle from Doneil Henry may have been fine but the shove from Allistair Johnston ought to do it. Jonathan Osorio did his best to channel his inner Kellyn Acosta with the mind games but with no such luck, Orbelin Pineda rolling home the penalty just before the break, 1-0 to Mexico in Houston!
It was quite the opening half. A lot of bite, a lot of tension and the one goal to separate Canada and Mexico courtesy of Pineda. The second half wasn’t bad either, but we’ll get to that…
Mexico were of course the favourites but that didn’t stop Canada from hitting back, Tajon Buchanan using his speed to get in behind. The New England wide-man then cut in on his weaker right foot and drove a low effort beyond the grasps of Alfredo Talavera, 1-1!
Shortly after though, Mark-Anthony Kaye (who has recently been acquired by the Rapids from LAFC) brought down Tecatito, a.k.a. Jesus Corona, in the area. It was Pineda that beat Crepeau from the penalty spot in the first half but this time it was oh so different. Carlos Salcedo stepped up and saw his effort kept out by the Whitecaps shot-stopper, Canada certainly not going down without a fight!
The likes of Funes Mori and Inter Miami’s Rodolfo Pizarro, the latter coming off of the bench in the Lonestar State, had chances to restore the lead for Mexico. Tata’s men came close but for all the while, the game looked destined for extra time. Talking of Mexico and this game, as many have been, was plagued by the homophobic chant of their fans- the authorities have warned and threatened them but unless any concrete action is taken, then nothing will change.
The game was actually stopped as a result of the chants and whilst many think something as serious as Mexico being kicked out of these tournaments is the only way to make change, me included, it almost seemed to benefit El Tri. Nine added minutes came as a result of this and just when extra-time looked to be a certainty, Pizarro setup Hector Herrera of reigning La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and with the clock in the red, Crepeau was beaten for a second time.
Crepeau made some great stops for Canada, Buchanan was as imperious as ever and TFC’s Jonathan Osorio looked solid in midfield but it just wasn’t to be for Herdman’s men. They have made a great account of themselves at this Gold Cup and there is a lot of positivity going into World Cup qualifying. On the flipside, this win for Mexico is overshadowed by, yet again, the homophobic chanting of their fans. They got the job done and although they are yet to reach anywhere near the level expected of them, a spot in the final along with the US is there anyway.