CONCACAF Gold Cup 2015: Winners and Losers from Final
Mexico claimed the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup title with a 3-1 victory over Jamaica on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
El Tri took the lead through Andres Guardado in the 31st minute as the captain scored his sixth goal of the tournament. Guardado had been hobbled by a slight injury but lasted until the second half and once again inspired his side. For his efforts throughout the tournament, the 28-year-old won the Golden Ball as the Gold Cup's best player.
Leading 1-0 at halftime, Mexico put the game away with second-half goals from Jesus "Tecatito" Corona and Oribe Peralta. Darren Mattocks netted a late consolation for Jamaica.
With the win, Mexico will now play the United States—which won the 2013 Gold Cup—in a one-game playoff to determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. That match is scheduled for Oct. 9.
Here are our choices for winners and losers from the final.
Winner: Andres Guardado
Guardado capped an outstanding Gold Cup campaign with another goal for Mexico on Sunday, his sixth of the tournament. El Tri's captain fell one goal short of tying Clint Dempsey of the United States for the most strikes in the tournament, but he surpassed Dempsey in every other way as the Gold Cup's best player.
Simply put, Mexico would not have lifted the trophy without Guardado. The 28-year-old was his team's lone bright spot in the quarterfinals and semifinals, scoring the winning goals in each game despite indifferent performances by El Tri. In both matches, Mexico benefited from questionable penalty decisions, and the team's critics will point out that Costa Rica and Panama had legitimate gripes with referees after those games.
But Guardado held his nerve brilliantly to convert the spot kicks in highly pressurized situations in both games, and you really can't ask more from a team captain. And yet he did more for his side throughout the tournament, scoring important goals and creating chance after chance for his teammates.
Even before the final, he was the best player of the tournament. After scoring another goal in the final, there was no doubt about it. As former New York Times contributor Cristian Nyari tweeted, Guardado was "the player of the tournament by MILES. Not even close."
Heading forward, coach Miguel Herrera will expect more of the same from the PSV Eindhoven midfielder. Mexico will play a one-game playoff against the United States in October to determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, and El Tri will need a similarly brilliant performance from Guardado against the Americans.
Winner: Jesus Corona
In four previous appearances in this Gold Cup, Corona had provided Mexico with a spark off the bench, impressing with eye-catching ball skills in late-game situations. With Carlos Vela suspended for the final, Coach Herrera handed Tecatito his first start of the tournament in Sunday's final, and the 22-year-old responded with a fine performance and a well-taken goal.
With the score 1-0 early in the second half, Corona won possession off Michael Hector in midfield and immediately advanced on goal. Nearing the edge of the box, he fired a low shot past Jamaica goalkeeper Ryan Thompson and into the bottom corner.
It was a brilliantly lethal strike for a young player who clearly has loads of potential. Not surprisingly, Corona won the tournament's "bright future" award as its best young player. Having spent the 2013-14 season with FC Twente's youth team, Tecatito made the leap to the senior squad last year and now appears ready to make a mark on the Eredivisie.
As Sunday showed, he's already doing so for Mexico in CONCACAF.
Loser: Michael Hector
Center back Michael Hector performed admirably for Jamaica for most of the Gold Cup, but Sunday's final was a night he'll want to forget.
In the 47th minute, Hector gave away possession too easily to Corona, who promptly scored Mexico's second goal of the night—which turned out to be the winner. Fourteen minutes later, he was at fault again for Mexico's third strike, miskicking a clearance straight to Peralta, who finished from close range.
Those two goals proved costly for Jamaica, and Hector will be disappointed with himself for his role in his team's loss. At the international level, any mistake can be—and often is—punished. Hector found that out the hard way Sunday night.
Despite the loss and the nature of the defeat, Jamaica will take only positives from their performance in the Gold Cup this summer. By reaching the final, the Reggae Boyz showed they are a team on the rise.
After winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup, Jamaica scored the shock of the tournament by beating the United States in the semifinal. But those who watched Winfried Schafer's team this summer—at both the Copa America and Gold Cup—were hardly surprised. Schafer has added new resolve and organization to Jamaica to go along with the squad's superior athleticism, and the results were impressive.
Before being beaten soundly by Mexico in the final, Jamaica were consistently the best team of the Gold Cup.
Schafer and his players will take that small bit of consolation with them into World Cup qualifying, which begins in a little over a month against Nicaragua. If the Reggae Boyz advance past that home-and-away tie, they will face a tough semifinal group with Costa Rica, Panama and likely Haiti.
That will be no easy task, but if Jamaica play like they did this summer, they have a strong chance of moving into the Hexagonal and challenging for a first World Cup berth since 1998.
Loser: Rodolph Austin
Jamaica captain Rodolph Austin was fortunate to remain on the pitch beyond halftime. After being booked in the first half, the midfielder barely escaped a second yellow card on two occasions.
First, he pulled back Guardado in midfield, a cynical foul that easily could have drawn a yellow card. Then, he made strong contact with Corona's face with an outstretched hand. The latter was a reckless challenge, and one can only imagine that referee Joel Aguilar spared Austin because it was a final.
In addition, Austin failed to pick up a mark defensively as Mexico broke the deadlock in the first half. Admittedly, he was hardly the only one, but Guardado ran unmarked behind him before converting his volley.
Jamaica needed more from Austin as the captain, but he turned in an indifferent performance in the final.
Winner: Miguel Herrera
It was simple. If Mexico had lost to Jamaica on Sunday, Herrera probably would have been fired. In fact, if El Tri had won but played poorly, El Piojo could have lost his job.
We'll never know for sure, but for those who followed Mexico this summer, Herrera was clearly under intense pressure to deliver the Gold Cup title. It was ugly at times along the way, but he did just that.
It would be negligent not to point out that Mexico needed questionable penalty decisions to beat Costa Rica in the quarterfinals and then Panama in the semifinals. "The fact is we didn't deserve to win the match because we didn't play at all well," Herrera said after the Panama game, per Reuters.
But after Sunday's final, that was all ancient history. Apart from an early spell of pressure by Jamaica, Mexico dominated the match and totally outclassed their opponents.
And Herrera did his part by making smart decisions with his team selection. With Hector Herrera underperforming, Jesus Duenas came into the midfield and kept the team ticking. With Carlos Vela suspended, Corona came in and scored a nice goal, showing he deserves further consideration for a starting spot.
In the end, it was job well done for El Piojo, who will surely keep his job for at least a little longer.