El Tri misfires against Honduras in Pan Am Games

Honduras coach Fabian Coito played for Pachuca in 1996. (Photo by LUKA GONZALES/AFP/Getty Images)
Honduras coach Fabian Coito played for Pachuca in 1996. (Photo by LUKA GONZALES/AFP/Getty Images) /

El Tri’s bogeyman – the shootout – ruined Mexico’s hopes for gold and the Under-22 team must now fight for bronze.

El Tri came up short from the penalty spot against Honduras and now must settle for a chance at the bronze medal after stumbling in the semifinals of the Pan Am Games in Lima.

El Tri scored late in the first half then seemed to take the rest of the game off, before a late mistake by their best player cost them the win. Mexico went on to lose in penalty kicks – those accursed penalty kicks – and must face the Argentina-Uruguay winner in the third-place game without three of Wednesday’s starters.

Just 5 minutes in, fullback Aldo Cruz was forced out of the match after a horrific foul that saw him sent to the hospital for treatment on his right ankle. Cruz, who plays for Tijuana, had been El Tri’s engine all tournament long, averaging a team-high 9.4 kilometers per match.

Kevin Álvarez came on for Cruz and Mexico appeared to settle down.

El Tri v Honduras PanAm Games
Francisco Venegas, #15, scored a fantastic goal, but it would not be enough for El Tri. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images) /

Tigres midfielder Francisco Venegas scored a magical goal in minute 40 to give El Tri the lead it was looking for. José Joaquín Esquivel (a Pachuca product) stole the ball deep in Mexico’s territory and pushed it to the left flank to fellow Tuzo Pablo López who tapped it to Venegas in the middle of the pitch. The regal midfielder took a touch, looked up and, upon seeing Honduran goalie Naid Guity out of his net, thumped the ball a full meter before crossing the midfield stripe. The ball soared over the keeper and bounded into the net. A golazo!

As the second half opened, Mexico appeared to be sitting back and Honduras pressed forward in search of the equalizer. El Tri created its first scoring chance of the second half in minute 56, but it did not result in a shot on goal.

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Slowly, Honduras started exploiting space and using their speed to probe the Mexico back line. In minute 66, José Alejandro Reyes got behind the Mexico defense and zipped a cross through the goalie box but no teammate could get a poke at it. Three minutes later, defender Brayton Vázquez picked up a silly foul out wide and was shown a yellow card. Denil Maldonado nearly made El Tri pay on the ensuing free kick, but his header soared high.

Mexico got its first shot on goal of the second half in minute 69 when Marcel Ruiz (Querétaro), trailing on a fast break, ran onto a loose ball inside the box but his right-footer was parried aside by Guity. It was a missed opportunity that would prove to be fateful.

As the clock hit 80, Esquivel tried to nutmeg Reyes in the Honduras half of the field. Reyes stole the ball and raced forward with loads of space through the middle of the pitch where Esquivel can usually be found. The midfielder dribbled 50 meters as teammates rushed back trying to cover for Esquivel, but Reyes cut to his left and fired from the top of the half moon. Keeper José Hernández (Atlas) dived right and got a paw on it, but could not keep it out of the net. It was 1-1 with 10 minutes remaining.

The first overtime was aimless for both teams, but just before the switch Honduras defender Riky Zapata picked up his second yellow card, leaving the Central Americans shorthanded and 15 minutes to go.

Mexico barely had time to take advantage when José de Jesús Godínez (León) was unjustly shown a red card and both teams were down to 10 men. Just three minutes later, Brayton Vázquez (Atlas) made a rash tackle and was sent to the showers for a second yellow-card infraction. El Tri barely finished out the match with a mixture of fouls and time-wasting.

In the shoot-out, captain Ismael Govea (Atlas) was denied on Mexico’s first kick, a poor one that Guity saved. Pachuca’s Pablo López stepped up with Mexico down 2-1 and clanged his spot kick off the right post which was followed by a Reyes conversion to make it 3-1. Oscar Macías (Chivas) converted on Mexico’s fourth try to make it 3-2, but when Maldonado blasted his penalty shot into the net, it was all over for El Tri.

Mexico will play the third-place game on Saturday without striker Godínez and central defender Vázquez – both suspended – and without Aldo Cruz whose injury is likely to keep him sidelined a few months.

Coach Jaime Lozano’s team lost a penalty shoot-out in the semifinals of the Toulon Tournament this summer, settling for a bronze medal by defeating Ireland in yet another shoot-out.