June 18 – Mexico, with a goal by Jesus Gallardo, ended their five game no-win streak to take third place in the Concacaf Nations League with a 1-0 win over Panama.
If Mexico wanted to make a statement that this was a team in transition and headed in the right direction under Diego Cocca (pictured), the goal on four minutes suggested this was going to be the day.
In the end it wasn’t. Mexico could easily have lost with Panama having two goals disallowed in the second half.
Cocca’s post match response was more positive under a barrage of Mexican press criticism, and fronting up to the “many people who want me out”.
He highlighted the 12 missed goal opportunities. “We have to improve at finishing.” Obviously. He also praised his players.
“I’d like to highlight the attitude of the team after the loss to the US which was very painful. They came back with a positive attitude,” he said. Though that wasn’t so obvious in this performance.
Mexico shaded the possession and the goal chances but didn’t have the bite to turn a regulation win into a rout.
Cocca made six changes from the side that started against the USA in the semi-final, one of them, enforced with Cesar Montes’ red card suspension. He left out LigaMX top scorer Henry Martin.
Panama coach Thomas Christiansen brought in veteran strikers Jose Fajardo and Alberto Quintero who had missed the first game against Canada through suspension.
The first half highlight was Gallardo’s goal. Following in on a sweeping Mexican attack and a ball across the box, he arrived to hit the ball back across Panama goalkeeper Luis Meija.
Mexico started the second half brightly, but Meija was equal to anything they had before Anibal Godoy’s overhead kick found the back of the net. Panama celebrated but VAR ruled the Nashville midfelder offside.
Panama found the back of the net again on 68 minutes with an Ismael Diaz finish that was ruled out by VAR.
Mexico had their own brush with VAR, having a penalty decision overturned, rightly.
There was just enough in the game to keep a , greatly decreased, Mexican support engaged to the end, but not enough to get them as excited as the semi-final classic against the US.
The calls for Cocca’s exit are only growing louder, if that is possible.
If he is still in place come the 25th when Mexico’s Gold Cup kicks off in Houston, he said his “promise is to work seriously, competitively and build a group…we are on the right path. We lost to strong rivals but we are growing and committed to getting better.”
“I’m convinced we will have a competitive team,” he said. The first job is to assess the injury list for the Gold Cup roster that has to be announced early next week. But before that he will have to convince his federation bosses he will be on the roster himself.
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