Mexico vs. Panama: El Tri Will Get Revenge in Gold Cup Semifinal

Tim KeeneyContributor IJuly 24, 2013

Jul 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Mexico player Miguel Layun (19) celebrates with goal keeper Johnathan Orozco (1) after defeating Trinidad & Tobago at the Georgia Dome. Mexico defeated Trinidad & Tobago 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a tumultuous year for the Mexican national team, but Jose Manuel De La Torre's squad is beginning to show signs of life. 

A couple of weeks ago, that didn't seem possible. 

World Cup qualifying has gone pretty much the opposite as expected since the beginning of Round 4 play.

Mexico got off to a dreadful start back in February, drawing against Jamaica—the group's worst team—at Estadio Azteca.

It looked like El Tri was back to normal the next month against Honduras when Javier Hernandez netted the first two goals of the match, but Los Catrachos responded with two late goals to force another draw.

A draw with the Americans at Estadio Azteca and a 1-0 win over Jamaica followed, before two more draws with Panama and Costa Rica.

Suddenly, a side that was supposed to be a stone-cold lock for the World Cup found itself third in the group with eight points, including three disappointing draws at home.

Mexico was looking at potentially missing out on automatic qualifying. 

None of that was really supposed to matter heading into the Gold Cup when Mexico's "B" team took the pitch. 

However, after Mexico dropped its first match to Panama, focus shifted to boss "Chepo" De La Torreif it wasn't there already.

With his job now on the line, Chepo has his squad finally playing like it should.

The team followed the loss to Panama with wins over Canada (2-0), Martinique (3-1) and Trinidad and Tobago (1-0) in the quarters. 

On the surface, the last of those wins isn't all that impressive. Needing an 84th-minute goal to beat an average team doesn't exactly scream "back to form."

However, Mexico was clearly the better side, controlling the possession, creating more chances and overcoming Trinidad and Tobago's size advantage en route go a mostly dominant performance. The only thing that lacked was finishing in the final third.

Of course, finishing in the final third is what has plagued Mexico during this rough stretch. Against Panama, which has given up just two goals all tournament, things aren't going to get much easier. 

Still, there was enough encouraging play against Trinidad to suggest Mexico is up for revenge. 

Right-back Miguel Layun was once again terrific, setting up Raul Jimenez' game-winning goal and looking like a true threat moving forward. With each passing performance, he looks like a legitimate first-team option for Chepo.

Luis Montes was also great on the right side, displaying a nice mix of energy and passing.

Finally, there was Jimenez. He scored the goal, yes, but he also created a load of other chances. At 22, he is a burgeoning talent who looks to be getting better each time out. 

Not long ago, it looked like Mexico's streak of three straight Gold Cup finals and two straight victories was in serious danger.

And although El Tri still hasn't played to its full capacity, it is playing good enough at the right time to get revenge against Panama on Wednesday.