Mexico seek ninth Gold Cup title versus Panama at SoFi Stadium

Gold Cup (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Gold Cup (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

History beckons as Panama returns to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final after being beaten in 2005 and 2013 by the USA in both finals. Panama dumbfounded USA in the semifinals one 5-4 on penalties after being tied 1-1 at regulation and extra time. While on the other hand, Mexico rubbed salt in the Jamaican’s wound to get sweet revenge by trashing them 3-0 in semifinal two after being beaten 1-0 in 2017 by Jamaica at the same stage.  Panama and Mexico will lock horns for CONCACAF Gold Cup supremacy on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

El Tri, the most successful nation in this competition with eight titles and having been in 3 out of the last four finals, was thrown under the bus by supporters at the start of the competition. This was merely because most of their first-team players were contesting the Nation League final four in Las Vegas a day before the start of the Gold Cup. Mexico was going through a rollercoaster ride after failing to march on to the second round of the 2022 World Cup campaign for the first time in decades. They were also beaten in the 2021 Gold Cup finals and 2023 Nation League semifinals. Despite the uncertainty of his job after this campaign, under pressure, coach Jaime Lozano decided to knock the critics off by proving them wrong.

Lozano Took over the Mexican team from Diego Cocca after Mexico’s 3-0 loss to the USA in the Nation League semifinals. Since then, he has struck the right chords, winning four of his five matches as interim coach of the senior squad, while his side has not conceded in the knockout stage of this competition. Prior to his introduction to the senior team, he led the Mexican Under-23 team to a bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games. So he has some pedigree under his belt.

Mexico grew into the competition and got stronger as the tournament went on, scoring 12 goals, conceding 2, winning four and losing one to Qatar. Their remarkable form under Lozano has harvested the trust of the supporters, which was absent at the beginning. If history stays true to form, Mexico should walk away champs because they have never lost consecutive Gold Cup finals, perhaps a good omen seeing as they were beaten 1-0 in extra-time in the 2021 final versus the United States. To add to their golden pot, no team except the USA has beaten Mexico in a final, shaking off Brazil twice and Jamaica, the only other teams that have met them at the stage.

Since Javier Hernandez in 2011, no Mexican has walked away with the golden boot award. Despite having only four players scoring two goals apiece, the El Tri have captured six successive victories when scoring first and losing only once in the Gold Cup final when scoring first. Mexico is unbeaten in its previous 13 matches versus the Panamanians; they have lost two of their last three Gold Cup encounters against them, falling 2-1 in both the group stage and semi-final in 2013.

Since the turning of the last three decades, Panama national team has been on the lips of all sports enthusiasts. They missed out by a whisker on a second consecutive World Cup last year. They suffered a bitter loss in the CONCACAF Nations League semi-final. In a bit, to put a smile there vibrant and ardent supporters’ faces, they must do what no other team except the USA has done. Many tongues were left wagging after Panama held a fiery USA team for 120 minutes. In a keenly contested match, Panama went ahead in extra time only to give up the lead six minutes later to send the game into penalty kicks. Although their victory was unexpected, many of the underlying numbers suggest their advancement was fully deserved, with Los Canaleros claiming 56% of the possession, scoring at least once in eight of their 12 matches versus the US in this competition and completing 288 passes against them after 45 minutes Wednesday, the most that any American opponent had accumulated in the opening half of a Gold Cup clash since 2013.

Scoring against Mexico, however, has proven to be more challenging, with Panama being shut out in four of their previous five meetings with El Tri. Four of their five goals conceded at the Gold Cup this year have occurred beyond the 90th minute, but despite giving up a 105th-minute equalizer to Jesus Ferreira in the semi-finals, La Marea Roja came through in the shootout to set up a dicey final. Mexico will depend heavily on Henry Martin and Luis Chavez to provide the goals, while Ochoa is expected to keep the Panamanians at bay like what he did the last time the two sides met in the third-place playoff game at the Nations League last month. Blas Perez and Alberto Quintero will have limited opportunities based on the Mexican’s mean defense. However, if they are to walk away with the title, those two must be clinical in front of goal.

Irrespective of the winner, the spectators can expect a football treat by these two teams who are no strangers to each other.