No team has dominated the Gold Cup quite like Mexico. The team has won the tournament six straight times and taken the last two. And though Mexico hasn't been playing particularly well of late, this young side with many World Cup hopefuls has the chance to reverse El Tri's recent fortunes.
For Panama, the goal is simple (and realistic) enough—advance out of Group A. With Canada and Martinique rounding out the group, there is no reason this Panama side—which, like Mexico will rest several key players—can't go on a deep run into the knockout phase.
This is a critical match for the top contenders in Group A. Let's break it down.
When: Sunday, July 7 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
Watch: FOX Soccer
Stream: FOX Soccer 2Go
What They're Saying
Mexico's B-side isn't exactly coming into the Gold Cup in sparkling form, having lost to Queretaro and Cruz Azul Hidalgo in warm-up matches. That has left manager Jose Manuel de la Torre seeking answers.
From Tom Marshall of Goal.com:
Jose Manuel “Chepo" de la Torre was again left to face the press lamenting another negative surrounding the Mexican national team, off the back of the weak displays in the Confederations Cup and in World Cup qualifying.
“There are things that can’t happen in a competition because they send you out, they are basic (errors),” commented Chepo after the game on the mistakes which led to Queretaro’s goals.
De la Torre admitted his team lacked fluidity, but didn’t complain about the attitude and reiterated that the goal in to head to the United States to win the Gold Cup.
“The objectives are clear: The main one is qualifying for Brazil 2014 and we will also look to win the Gold Cup,” he added.
Mexico Player to Watch: Marco Fabian
With the exception of perhaps Landon Donovan, no player has more to gain in this year's Gold Cup than Marco Fabian. Once marked to be a future star, the 23-year-old has seen injuries and inconsistency stymie his career.
At the Gold Cup, Fabian will have the opportunity to prove his worth to El Tri and perhaps earn a spot on Mexico's A-team for the final World Cup qualifiers and eventually the World Cup. Plus, it could spark a big season for his club, Chivas.
And ultimately, it could inspire a move to a European club.
A lot is on the line for Fabian, whose pure talent has never been in question. If there is one player who can lift Mexico to another Gold Cup title, it is this exciting forward. Expect him to play a major role in this contest against Panama.
Panama Player to Watch: Jaime Penedo
Like Mexico, Panama will be without many of its best players, as they'll be saved for the World Cup qualifiers. But a few A-listers, including Roman Torres, Blas Perez (who will miss this game) and starting keeper Penedo will be available.
For Panama, the key to this opening game is simple—earn a draw. That's where Penedo steps in. If he can stymie El Tri—which are sure to control possession and create more chances in this contest—Panama can earn a critical point and will be favored against Canada and Martinique in their finals games.
Penedo will surely be tested, but if he is up to the challenge, Panama could start this tournament with a very important point.
Which team wins?
Normally, you would predict a Mexican win here, especially at a tournament the team has traditionally dominated. But Mexico is struggling on every level right now, and Panama won't roll over and die. Mexico will control the run of play, but Panama will do just enough to earn a point.
This game ends in a draw, 1-1.