By: Grant Fisken
The headlines from the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals should have been dominated by Jamaica’s shock 2-1 victory against co-hosts United States. Instead the aftermath is all about Mexico and their helping hand from the match officials, something that is becoming a recurring theme in this tournament.
Mexico have endured a difficult time at international level since they won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. They were minutes away from a catastrophic failure to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, a tournament that despite their poor form they still managed to reach the knockout stage, only to suffer their usual exit in the round of 16. They were then knocked out in the group stage of this year’s Copa America after failing to win any of their three matches.
Despite their form, Mexico and United States are always the favourites to win the Gold Cup. Only Canada in 2000 have prevented at least one of them going on to lift the trophy. The Mexican’s fragility was evident in the group stage of the 2015 competition as they only finished second in their group after a 0-0 draw against Guatemala and conceding a last-gasp equaliser in a 4-4 thriller versus Trinidad and Tobago. The quarterfinal against Costa Rica was where the controversy would really begin.
After 120 minutes of goalless action and the game set for a penalty shootout, Oribe Peralta went down theatrically in the box and Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez pointed to the spot. Andres Guardado sent the Mexicans through to a semifinal versus Panama. It looked as if Mexico’s luck was in again after Luis Tejada was sent off in the first half, but the 10 men of Panama went in front through a goal by Roman Torres, the man who knocked Mexico out of the 2013 Gold Cup at the same stage.
History was not to repeat itself though, as in the last minute US referee Mark Geiger ludicrously penalised Torres for handball in the box, a decision that had the Mexican television commentators laughing and even manager Miguel Herrera saying it was never a penalty. Guardado stepped up again to send the match into extra-time, and to make matters worse for the Panamanians they were knocked out by another Guardado penalty.
Jamaica will be hoping for a stronger refereeing performance when they play Mexico as they became the first Caribbean nation to reach the Gold Cup final. United States had played in the last five finals of the tournament, but never recovered after first half goals by Darren Mattocks and Giles Barnes. Michael Bradley did halve the deficit, but the Reggae Boyz held on for only their second-ever win against the US.
Mexico (4/11) are heavy favourites to lift their seventh Gold Cup trophy, with Jamaica outsiders at 9/4. The Reggae Boyz will have the neutrals on their side, especially those in Panama, whose players posed for a photograph in the changing room after their semifinal holding a banner reading, “CONCACAF thieves. Corrupt. Corrupt. Corrupt.”.