State Farm Stadium - Glendale, Arizona.
Mexico’s National Team has returned to the Gold Cup Final Match again. After being bounced from the tournament by Jamaica two years ago, El Tri was not to be denied by a strong Haiti. Mexico will face the US and their renewed pool of talent at Soldier Field in Chicago, Il., in what features to be a clash of the future for both squads. Earning this was not easy for Mexico as they saw out a very physical match against Haiti. Even though El Tri possessed the ball for over 70% of the time, created opportunities, Haiti hunkered down and played their counter-attacking game.
Returning to the starting lineup was Hector Moreno and Robert Alvarado. This saw Nestor Araujo and surprising star, Uriel Antuna start off on the bench for the Mexican outfit. One could speculate that the decision to start Antuna on the bench was load management, as the team saw themselves playing a game just a mere 4 days after winning in extra time in Houston, TX.
All of this left a lot of Mexican fans questioning the decision, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, has bought a lot of loyalty from the Mexican Faithful.
During the game, Mexico relied on what has worked for them during the tournament: their ability to control the pace of the game by holding on to the ball. Mexico would go on to create many chances during the 90 minutes of regulation. Surely the best opportunity of the game came when Jimenez headed a well crossed ball, however, Haiti’s goalkeeper (Jhony Placide) made a decisive stop to keep the Mexicans at bay.
A few minutes later, LA Galaxy’s own, Jonathan Dos Santos, would whistle a shot over the bar. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though the game continued to be deadlock and the tackles would continue to add up. Before the end of regulation, Andres Guardado came close to settling the game when Mexico was awarded a free kick just outside the box. A perfectly placed kick was for naught when he was denied by Haiti’s goalkeeper.
Of note, Placide still doesn’t have a club and remains a free agent. This is bound to change after his performance during this historic run by Haiti. Stay tuned for that!
As regulation came to a close, the beginning of extra time would start off with both teams trying to settle the score before heading to penalty kicks. It was then that when within 2 minutes of extra time, Raul Jimenez drew a controversial call. As he was coming inside, the referee thought he saw contact and pointed to the spot. A penalty kick conceded by Herve Bazile was just what Mexico needed and Raul Jimenez stepped up to take the penalty and buried it to the bottom right corner, sending the entire stadium into a frenzy.
For the remaining of the game, both teams continue to attack, and Mexico came dangerously close once again in the 101st minute when Raul Jimenez right footed attempt was blocked by Placide. Another clear chance came when Jimenez crossed the ball into Pizzaro, but the Monterrey talisman couldn’t finish. With one last attempt, Haiti struck the upper post of Memo Ochoa’s net, all but silencing the 64,000+ that came to cheer El Tri.
The game ended in a 1-0 score to Mexico, but make no mistake about it, Haiti is here, and they will contend for as World Cup spot in the upcoming CONCACAF qualifiers.
Photos: William Ortiz aka @galaxyfanatic
Special thanks to Jose Moreno for collaborating with the fan photos for this article.