Mexico Vs. Costa Rica, 2011 Gold Cup: El Tri Finishes Group Play with Decisive 4-1 Win

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - MAY 07: Fernando Hidalgo #8 of Ecuador chases the ball with Andres Guardado #18 of Mexico during the FMF U.S. Tour at the New Meadowlands Stadium on May 7, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

In front of a packed house at Soldier Field in Chicago, Andres Guardado led Mexico to an impressive 4-1 win over Costa Rica in the final Gold Cup group play match for both teams.

It was a match that was supposed to be closely contested. Both Mexico and Costa Rica came into the 2011 Gold Cup as title contenders, and most everyone looked forward to the team's group stage showdown. Led by former Mexico manager Ricardo La Volpe, and bolstered by the return to the starting lineup of striker Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica were expected to give Mexico at least a bit of trouble.

Any thoughts of giving Mexico trouble quickly evaporated, though, as Costa Rica fell almost immediately behind in the opening stages of the match.

In the 17th minute, Mexico defender Rafael Marquez headed in a corner kick to open the scoring. Less than two minutes later Andres Guardado blasted in what may have been the most impressive goal of the tournament. On the play, Israel Castro sent a pass over to the left edge of the box, where Guradado rocketed a left-footed volley into the upper right corner of the goal. The shot left Costa Rica stunned, while the mostly pro-Mexico Soldier Field crowd erupted in celebration.

Mexico weren't done, though. In the 26th minute, Guardado again scored from the left side. This time he worked the ball near the end line and beat Costa Rica's goalkeeper Keylor Navas to the near post. In the 38th minute, it was Pablo Barrera's turn. Mexico's right-winger found loads of space in the box and converted for the 4-0 lead. It was an incredible first half performance by Guardado and El Tri, and one made all the more impressive given Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez still had not found the back of the net. In fact, one of the few criticisms for Mexico on the night was Chicharito's unsuccessfully finishing. The striker was set up in great position numerous times, but either missed or was thwarted by Navas.

In the second half, Costa Rica were finally able to get one back. In the 69th minute, Marcos Urena chested down a pass from Bryan Ruiz in the box, and sent a shot past Alfredo Talavera. It wasn't near enough to help Costa Rica in this match, but it was the first 2011 Gold Cup goal conceded by Mexico. The best you could say for Costa Rica at the end of the day was that they ended Mexico's streak of consecutive 5-0 Gold Cup wins at three games.

With a dominating group play round, featuring a three game aggregate scoreline of 14-1, Mexico now moves on as consensus Gold Cup championship favorites. Mexico also features four players--Chicharito, Guardado, Aldo de Nigris, and Giovani Dos Santos--who have scored multiple goals in the tournament. Mexico will look to keep their incredible momentum going next Saturday, where they will likely face either Guatemala or Canada in the quarterfinal round at the New Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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