The Mexico U-20 team came back from what was possibly their worst half of football in years to qualify to the CONCACAF U-20 Championship final. Mexico tied Panama 2-2 and went through on Fair play rules after having one less yellow card than Panama. Mexico was down 2-0 at halftime after an awful performance in the first half but they came back to be the better team, not without showing a lot of mistakes and creating a lot of doubts about this team’s future success. Mexico will now try to win the CONCACAF U-20 Tournament, which they had won for three straight tournaments until failing to do so in 2017 in Costa Rica. The will now face the United States in the final.
After Mexico clinched their ticket to the U-20 World Cup, they would play Panama for the ticket to the final of the tournament. Since both teams beat El Salvador by the same score (1-0), a tie would mean other tiebreakers would determine who went through, including the Fair play rule. Maybe because Mexico last played on Friday, while Panama played on Tuesday, Coach Diego Ramirez decided to once again rotate his squad of players in a move that would not help his team. The game started and most of Mexico’s recent additions struggled throughout the game. Panama started to dominate and once again Mexico’s weak points were exposed against the best team they had faced in the tournament so far. Mexico’s central midfield was a highway that Panama players went through freely and Mexico’s defense (by far the weakest link in the team) was put under pressure constantly after the constant attacking flow from Panama. Mexico regularly coughed up the ball and failed to get it back and it was almost a target practice for Panama.
Eventually, a Panama player hit the post and Ernesto Walker opened the scoring after finding a ball inside Mexico’s area after a terrible clearance from Gilberto Sepulveda.
Mexico tried to mount attacks but it was difficult when the midfield couldn’t get back the ball. Mexico kept struggling, while Sepulveda and Oswaldo Leon tried desperately to clear the ball.
In the last minute of halftime, Walker once again scored from a header off a corner kick after once again anticipating the Mexican defender.
Mexico needed to react quickly and Coach Ramirez sent Diego Hernandez in for Arturo Cardenas (another player who had a particularly bad game). The move seemed to work as he made a great cross that Edgar Lopez missed with an open net. Lopez had started instead of tournament leading scorer Jose Juan Macias and he failed to make his mark in the game.
Still, Mexico on the hand of a more busy Diego Lainez and Hernandez improved and started to take control of the game. After a cross was handled by the Panama defender, who inexplicably wasn’t yellow carded, Mexico got a penalty kick and Daniel Lopez scored it for the 2-1.
Mexico took control of the game and Lainez and Hernandez were terrorizing Panama, especially after Macias entered the game for Lopez. After a bad clearance from Panama, Lainez took the ball and made a great pass to Diego Hernandez, who scored a great goal to tie the game.
After the equalizer, Mexico kept at it, and following a great play by Macias, the ball was miraculous cleared by a Panama defender from the feet of Diego Hernandez. To make matters worse for Panama, one of their players got yellow carded for protesting, which gave Mexico the advantage in case of a tie (it might have been harsh but the Panama defender should definitely been carded for his handball).
But Panama went for the win and found space, after once again Mexico’s defense and midfield started to falter. In the final minutes, a cross was headed by a Panama player and hit the post. Mexico held on and the tie gave Mexico the ticket to the final because of the fair play rule.
Mexico is on its way to accomplish its second objetive following their qualification to the World Cup. That said, a lot of doubts with this team once again surfaced. Against their best rival, a lot of Mexican players failed the test. If what coach Diego Ramirez said before about this team already having a base is true, then Mexico might be in a lot of trouble. Their defensive system (from the midfield to the back line) is in shambles and a lot of the players have shown not to be good enough to make an impact in this team except negatively. Their struggles against the two best teams faced (Jamaica and Panama) are worrisome when the possibility is extremely high that they will face better opposition in the World cup in Poland. Mexico’s defensive display against the two best sides faced is some of the worst seen in years in a U-20 Tournament. That being said, offensively they have improved a lot and they showed a lot of character in coming back and taking control of the game. The draw was a just result because, as bad as they were in the first half, they were much better in the second half, carried by their offense and some of their star players. Still, Mexico should drop as the favorite team against whoever they play in the final. The next goal of crowning themselves champions seems as distant as it has ever been.