After 30 matches across the country, the stage is now set for Mexico vs. Panama in the 17th final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Although both sides secured a spot in the final, how they earned their place was very much different.
In the semifinals, Panama claimed victory over reigning Gold Cup winners the United States, but only after going toe to toe with them in a penalty shoot.
From the start, the U.S. came out aggressive, with winger Cade Cowell blasting a shot on goal 20 seconds into the match. The shot would hit the goal post and ended up being the team’s best scoring opportunity for the entirety of regular time.
For the first 90 minutes, both sides played very tight and had little to no goal scoring chances. It was not till extra time when things started to heat up.
In the 99th minute, defender Iván Anderson would take advantage of a defensive error by U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner, and score with ease.
It did not take long for the U.S. to retaliate though, as they would score just six minutes later when forward Jesus Ferreira would rocket the ball into the top right of the net.
Both offenses stayed hot the rest of extra time, but the score remained tied, leading to a penalty shootout. Panama goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera stepped up as the hero, saving two penalties, leading his team to a 5-4 shootout win and their first Gold Cup final appearance in a decade.
While Panama vs. U.S. was competitive for the majority of the match, the opposite could be said for the semifinal between Mexico and Jamaica. Mexico destroyed the Reggae Boyz in a 3-0 landslide.
Mexico came out hungry and with a chip on their shoulder. They drew first blood with a goal from striker Henry Martin, who scored off a cross from defender Jesús Gallardo two minutes into the game.
The bleeding did not stop though, as midfielder Luis Chavez floated the ball over the heads of the Jamaican defensive wall and into the net off a freekick in the 30th minute. This goal by Chavez was undoubtedly the moment of the match, and possibly the goal of the tournament so far.
Mexico dominated Jamaica the rest of the game and put the final nail in the coffin with a third goal by striker Roberto Alvarado during garbage time.
Leading into the final, both teams are motivated by their own reasons for victory. Panama looks to win their first ever Gold Cup championship, and become the fourth nation to ever achieve this feat. While Mexico searches for their ninth championship and in hopes of regaining their title as kings of CONCACAF.
A key player for Panama in the final will be winger Ismael Díaz, who will be important in getting the offense up and going early in the match. Díaz currently has the second most goals in the tournament with four.
A key player on the Mexico side will be goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, he will be responsible for having the defense set and bringing the veteran mentality needed to win a championship. Ochoa currently has the most-clean sheets in the tournament with three and has only allowed two goals in five games.
I think the game will be very physical and we may see a few yellow and red cards by the end of it. Both sides will favor offense more than defense, but in the end, defense will be key to which team makes fewer mistakes and overall wins. My pick is for Mexico to win 2-0. Mexico is playing with much more confidence at the moment than Panama and they have a more well-balanced side.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup final will take place on July 16 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA at 4:30 P.M. You can follow the action on Sunday on Univision and TUDN. We will have the latest details at the end of the match.