Raul Jimenez converted a penalty in overtime as El Tri got past Haiti, but coach Martino has plenty to think about after an unimpressive showing.
Mexico started its semifinal against Haiti on the front foot with a couple of decent early chances and it looked like it could be a very long night for Haiti. However midway through the first half it looked like Haiti had found a rhythm and Mexico almost looked like they had no answer for Haiti’s strong defensive back line.
After scoring at least three goals in each of the first seven games under new coach “Tata” Martino – including an impressive 7-0 victory over Cuba in its first Gold Cup group match – Mexico has struggled to find the back of the net in its past two matches.
El Tri reached the semifinal by beating Costa Rica on penalty kicks, and it looked like another nervy shoot-out was in the cards as extra time started. But just one minute into the first overtime period, Jiménez took a kick to the foot in the box and went down in a heap. The ref hesitated, but then pointed to the spot.
Jimenez made amends for his shootout miss against Costa Rica, slotting home firmly to provide the eventual game winner, to resume his impressive penalty-conversion rate.
But this game is a stark reminder of Mexico’s curious inability to score from open play during the Gold Cup. No doubt, their opponent in the final will take notice of this weakness.
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The longer Mexico goes without scoring from open play, the more fans will complain that absent players could have helped Mexico win more easily. Players such as Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Jesus Corona and Hirving Lozano were tweeted about throughout the Haiti game by fans who lamented their absence.
Whether El Tri faces Jamaica or Team USA in the final, the game will be extremely tough and the squad will need to vastly improve their offensive play if they hope to lift the trophy.
Martino was in a box seat for Tuesday night’s game, serving a one-game ban for receiving a second yellow card in the tournament, but his presence on the touch line in the final could provide some much needed enthusiasm and direction.
The biggest takeaway from the semifinal against Haiti is that Mexico could have and indeed should have beaten both Costa Rica and Haiti in comfortable fashion.
The obvious reaction to that may be arguing that the missing veterans are still Mexico’s best players. But I believe the squad “Tata” has to work with is good enough to win this Gold Cup.
Players like Jimenez, Jesus Gallardo, Jonathan dos Santos and Hector Moreno have stepped into the role of veteran leaders of the squad while youngsters such as Roberto Alvarado and Uriel Antuna have reaped much-needed experience from this tournament. Regardless of the outcome, Mexico’s 2022 World Cup squad could be a very impressive set of players.