The build up to the Mexico vs. Cuba match certainly wasn't what we expected. Breaking news on Thursday afternoon revealed that five players from the Mexico national team -- Francisco "Maza" Rodriguez, Memo Ochoa, Edgar Dueñas, Sinha, and Christian "Hobbit" Bermudez -- had tested positive for banned substance clenbuterol and would not be allowed to participate. Adding to the craziness was a circulating rumor (later debunked) that several Cuba players had defected and left the team.
As if in on the joke, Mother Nature rolled in with a thunderstorm to further set the Thursday evening mood. With lightning strikes in the Charlotte area, the first match of the night -- Costa Rica vs. El Salvador -- was delayed for over 30 minutes. The storm clouds eventually moved on, but an air of uncertainty remained over the stadium for the opening match. Underdogs El Salvador held a 1-0 lead over Costa Rica into stoppage time, and ultimately settled for what was still a surprising draw.
The atmosphere shifted a bit as the Bank of America Stadium crowd fully came to life for the main event. As if challenging any detractors, Mexico came out with an incredibly attack-minded lineup featuring two forwards, Javer "Chicharito" Hernandez and Angel Reyna, along with the usual attacking midfield trio of Andres Guardado, Gio Dos Santos, and Pablo Barrera.
It was Dos Santos who looked the liveliest in the early going. In the 3rd minute he forced a save from Cuba goalkeeper Odelin Molina, and in the 7th minute he made a nice run down the middle to set up Chicharito for a wide open look. The shot missed, but Chicharito would get the chance back later in the half. In the 36th minute, Mexico finally broke through courtesy of a Chicharito header. With 13 shots on goal from Mexico, Cuba was more than lucky to go into halftime down just 1-0.
The second half would be an entirely different story. Similar to their match against El Salvador, Mexico shifted into a new gear after the break. One key factor was Pablo Barrera, who came alive on the right wing. Early in the half, Barrera sent two great balls into the box for Chicharito, who just missed on both occasion. In the 63rd minute Barrera found Dos Santos on the end of his service and Mexico was up 2-0.
And that’s when things broke wide open.
Just seconds after coming on as a substitute, Aldo de Nigris scored in the 65th minute to make it 3-0. Less than three minutes later, Efrain Juarez set up Dos Santos for a fourth goal. Chicharito would end the scoring for Mexico just like it began with a 76th minute goal to cap off the 5-0 rout.
It was an entertaining match for most of the 46,000 fans in attendance. The El Tri supporters in the Charlotte area were given a performance (featuring 5 goals and 27 shots on goal by Mexico) that more than made up for the scoreless draw against Iceland last March. And for the team itself, the 5-0 scoreline was a great step in a positive direction for Mexico on a day that began clouded in so much negativity.