By Paul Nicholson in Las Vegas
July 12 – Mexico marched into the Gold Cup with a 3-0 win over Jamaica that was powered by an impressive first half display that saw them go into the break 2-0 up and the match pretty much won.
It has been a huge turnaround for this team under interim coach Jaime Lozano who took over following Mexico’s poor Nations League performance. Despite losing a group game to Qatar, the Mexicans have looked the quality team in this tournament. They came into the semi-final after a convincing 2-0 won over Costa Rica.
Jamaica arrived after a 1-0 win over Guatemala and with an all-Premier League frontline that was threatening destruction but hadn’t quite achieved it.
The first half was Mariachi vs Reggae. A frantic high intensity tempo against a more languid laid back rhythm. Ultimately Jamaica were too laid back and to loose to deal with the Mexican wave of pressure that hit them like the 105 degree desert heat outside the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Straight from the kick off Michail Antonio was brought down on the right wing. Leon Bailey’s left footed delivery was too easily headed out, the ball back in to the box was again cleared with Mexico countering at pace down the right.
A ball over the top to Jesus Gallardo saw him return it to Henry Martin in the centre who takes one touch and fires in from 6m with his left foot. One minute in, 1-0 Mexico .
The fast start stunned the Reggaz Boys and emboldened El Tri who for 10 minutes threw waves of attacks and players towards Andre Blake’s goal.
On 7 minutes Luis Romi forced Blake to save with a shot from the edge of the box. Two minutes later Edson Sanchez’s shot was pushed away for a corner by Blake low down at his left post.
With 10 minutes gone Jamaica at last returned to the Mexican half but Antonio’s first touch failed him and Mexico easily dealt with the danger.
Mexico dominated possession and when they lost it, pressed high, regaining it too easily. The best chance fell to Luis Chavez on 22 minutes but his shot didn’t trouble Blake. At the other end Demarai Gray had a first sniff of the action but his shot was easily gathered by Guillermo Ochoa.
On the half hour Mexico were two up. A free kick on the left of the box saw Chavez superbly curl the ball over the top of the wall and into Blake’s top left hand corner. 2-0 Mexico and Jamaica were struggling to put up a credible challenge.
The second half was different but the game was already gone. Jamaica opened with more intent and purpose. With Shamar Nicholson on for Kevon Lambert, Jamaica switched to 4-3-3, immediately opening up space for Antonio to hit a long range shot into the Ochoa’s side netting.
Jamaica had turned the possession tables on the Mexicans and even with one man fewer in midfield had added a bite to their challenges.
In the 53rd minute Leon Bailey breaking down the right found Nicholson wide on the left. His cross just eluded Antonio.
On 66 minutes Jamaica should have scored. A free kick chipped into the box saw Antonio muscle free only to fire over the top. It wouldn’t have counted as it was a little too much muscle for the Guatemalan referee.
On 70 minutes an overlapping Amar’i Bell won a corner. Jamaica again failed to deliver a challenging ball into the box.
Four minutes later Antonio again drove into the box with two defenders bouncing off him but dragged his shot into Ochoa’s body.
With Jamaica pushing men forward, Santiago Gimenez found himself free in the box but his weak shot was cleared off the line.
The Reggae Boys had turned this into a match but they really needed a goal and that final ball into the danger areas was agonisingly too long or too short. But they could not be faulted for their effort.
In the 90th minute Jamaica had free kick on the edge of the box in front of goal. Leon Bailey curled the ball just outside Ochoa’s top right hand corner. It was emblematic of Jamaica’s second half.
Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson in his pre-match talk had described Jamaica as a team in the making and with 2026 World Cup qualification as their target. There is still work to be done but the Gold Cup has been a progression.
Mexico, who began the Gold Cup in crisis are finishing it on fire. Deep into added time Jesus Gallardo beat his marker on the left to cross for Roberto Alvarado to tap in.
Mexico now move on to Sunday’s final at the SoFi stadium in Los Angeles to face Panama.
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