Mexico beat Panama to set up a Concacaf classic against the US on Sunday night

March 21 – Mexico cruised past Panama 3-0 in the second semi-final of the Concacaf Nations League at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. They will now meet the US in the final in what promises to be a battle of the giants on Sunday night.

Two first half goals within four minutes at the end of the first half effectively sealed their win. They added a third in the second half as Panama chased the game.

This was the third consecutive Concacaf finals competition Panama and Mexico have met. At the Nations League in 2023 Mexico beat Panama for third place, beating them again a month later in the final of the Gold Cup 1-0.

In between times Mexico laboured their way to the current CNL final four with a quarter final penalty shoot-out win over Honduras, while Panama had put Costa Rica to the sword with an emphatic 6-1 aggregate victory.

Panama have been knocking on the door of a big breakthrough, but it wasn’t going to be tonight.

Panama lined up with a back five protected by a bank of four and Jose Fajardo as the lone striker. Mexico countered with a backline of four, two holding midfielders, and two wide men feeding two strikers.

There was still no starting place for Mexico’s starlet Santiago Jimenez, while Hirving Lozano was also on the bench. Henry Martin started up front alongside Julian Quinones.

A scrappy stop-start opening saw Mexico having the bulk of possession with Panama limited to counter attacks.

In the tenth minute Edson Alvarez should have put the Mexicans ahead. A cross into the box from Erick Sanches found Alvarez 3m from goal but his header was met by a brilliant reaction save by Orlando Mosquera who tipped the ball over the bar.

Panama’s best attacks were on the counter and in the 34th minute Guillermo Ochoa smothered the ball at the feet of an incoming Jose Rodriguez. In the 38th minute Mexico cleared a Panama corner to Fidel Escobar who flashed his shot just wide of Ochoa’s left post.

Mexico countered and won a free kick top right of Panama’s box. This time Alvarez made no mistake with his header, meeting Luis Chavez’s free kick at the back post. VAR checked for offside, the goal was allowed to stand.

Three minutes later Mexico doubled their lead. Julian Quinones split the Panama defence to receive the ball and drive into the box, beat his defender and fire past Mosquera.

At half time Mexico went in 2-0 up. Panama needed to change gears if they were to get back in this game.

Panama coach Thomas Christiansen switched his line up for the start of the second half, pushing more men into midfield and a second striker up top. He also switched Edgar Barcenas for Eric Davis.

The difference was immediate with Panama able to hold the ball for longer periods in the Mexico half. In the 50th minute Ochoa gathered the ball in a goal mouth scramble. Two minutes later Mexico gave a free kick away on the top of their box. Davis hit his shot over the bar.

Roles had reversed and Mexico were now on the back foot as Panama built pressure.

On 57’ Rodrigues forced a save from Ochoa.

It was Mexico’s turn to feed off counter attacks and on 62’ minutes Hirving Lozano intercepted a cross free with a direct run at goal only for Mosquera to save to his left. It was a nasty miss.

Four minutes later Mexico had a third. With Panama committing men forward, a long ball over the top found Orbelin Pineda who lifted the ball over a stranded Mosquera into the Panama net.

In the 89th minute Cecilio Waterman looked to have pulled one back for Panama but VAR intervened and judged him offside.

Mexico have never won the Nations League, having lost in the final in the first edition and the semi-final in 2023, both times to the US. Preventing a US three-peat will be as sweet to them as winning the title.

Panama will meet Jamaica for the third place play-off.

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