Gold Cup Final Preview and Prediction
Did anybody really expect differently?
The United States and Mexico will meet in the 2009 Gold Cup final on Sunday, July 26th, 2009. This marks the third time these two rivals will have played each other for the CONCACAF crown.
How they got here...
Both teams took different routes to get here, surviving tests from the "bottom feeders" of CONCACAF.
The United States advanced as the winner of Group B with seven points. For the most part, they dominated their competition. A thrilling 2-2 draw with Haiti on match day three kept them from earning maximum points.
Mexico struggled early in Group C. Their performance in the first two matches against Nicaragua and Panama were horrible, to put it nicely. Mexico struggled to get in rhythm offensively, and were at sixes and sevens on defense.
It wasn't until their third match against Guadeloupe that Mexico began to show good ball movement and sturdy defending.
In the end, Mexico won Group C with seven points.
In the quarterfinals, the United States needed a penalty kick to get by the persistent Panama squad, who took the defending Gold Cup champions into extra time. Mexico, on the other hand, demolished Haiti 4-0.
In the semifinals, the United States comfortably beat Honduras 2-0. Mexico had a much tougher opponent in Costa Rica. The match was thrilling as the Mexican team finally began to show promise of cohesion and teamwork. While Costa Rica squandered chances given to them by the work-in-progress Mexican defense.
It seemed as though Mexico would win when Guillermo Franco capitalized on a loose ball inside a chaotic six-yard box. However, Froylan Ledezma of Costa Rica took advantage of Mexican defensive blunders and scored the equilizer in injury time.
The match went into penalty kicks. Behind a Memo Ochoa save, Mexico came out victorious, 5-3, in football's version of Russian roulette.
The two countries are bitter rivals. Every match between these two nations is bigger and more important than the one before it. It truly is the most intense international rivalry on this side of the Atlantic.
The United States have decided to field their "C" squad in this year's Gold Cup tournament. A rational move as many of their "A" team players needed rest after competing in the FIFA Confederations Cup. Despite their place on the U.S. todem pole, these youngsters have proven their worth on the pitch.
Mexico have fielded a much stronger team, talent wise. With all of their European talents on vacation, Javier Aguirre has turned to the best talent in Mexico along with some of the most promising young talents avaliable to him.
The Mexican team is faster, more experienced, and largely, under more scrutiny. For the United States, the Gold Cup is nothing more than a chance to add another trophy to the case. For Mexico, the Gold Cup offers redemption for the recent poor performances on the international stage.
I expect the two teams to be very evenly matched for the majority of the game. The United States are a patient team that waits for the right opportunity to present itself. This mentality has usually worked for the yanks.
Mexico plays a much different style of football. Depending on which team shows up, they try to move the ball around and try to create lots of chances with crosses. Giovani Dos Santos has been the undisputed MVP of the team this tournament, and I look for him to terrorize the young United States defense.
I think the X-factor in this game will be Guillermo Ochoa. Ochoa is one of the best keepers in the world, and I look for him to deny the U.S. strikers many times on Sunday.
Without Tim Howard to bail them out, the United States will be on their heels for a lot of the game. Mexico will shoot themselves in the foot once or twice, which is what will keep this game close.
In the end, I think the play of the Mexican team has improved by leaps and bounds during the knockout stage. If they play like they did against Costa Rica and Guadeloupe, then Mexico should win comfortably.
However, if Mexico plays like they did against Nicaragua and Panama, the "C" team of the United States could steal this in a close one.
Anyway, I predict a 2-1 victory for Mexico. The game won't be as close as the scoreline suggests, but enough for the U.S. team to be proud of their performance.
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