Mexico continued their tradition of having a tough semifinal round after needing a last minute goal to defeat Canada by a 2-1 score. It was a tough, emotional day after news before the game that Zizinho Dos Santos, ex-Club America and Monterrey player had died. Zizinho was the father of Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos, both notable Mexican players and the latter being in the current Gold Cup squad. Jonathan somehow started the match, and both Mexico goals were celebrated in honoring him and his father. With emotions running high and up against a good Canadian squad, Mexico were out for a tough match which was hampered by numerous mistakes. Ultimately it was one that Mexico was able to get through to set up another Gold Cup final between Mexico and the United States.
The first half started with Mexico coming out with their expected starting lineup, while Canada came out with a squad weakened by injuries to players like Cyle Larin. Mexico dominated the first minutes and had a good opportunity with a shot from Hector Herrera that was saved by Canada’s goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. There was a harsh foul by Canada, which turned into a scuffle between Luis Rodriguez and Kamal Miller. After a mistake by Edson Alvarez who missed the ball, Richie Laryea got into the area but Mexico’s goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera made a great play by diving and taking the ball off his feet. Mexico had another chance when Rogelio Funes Mori got the ball down in the area, but his strong shot was blocked by a defender. Canada responded when Carlos Salcedo made a mistake on a one-on-one, allowing the ball to bounce and giving time for Tesho Akindele to get to the ball and make a pass to Stephen Eustaquio, but his shot went well wide. After a play, Crepeau looked to be injured and needed to get medical treatment. Hector Moreno made a terrible mistake in which he tried to prevent a Canadian player from getting to the ball before the ball went out, but Jonathan Osorio beat him to it but Salcedo was able to clear his resulting cross. Mexico responded with a good play that ended with Gallardo getting to the area, but his shot was saved by Crepeau. The game turned very even with both teams playing sloppy. Mexico seemed to have trouble with a Canadian team that was well prepared for the game. Then after it looked like Jesus Corona fell in the area but the referee didn’t call a foul, Mexican players protested and Canadian players responded and it lead to a scuffle. The ref went to VAR after the situation and gave Mexico a penalty kick. Orbelin Pineda stepped up to take the PK and with a very well placed right footed shot, scored the 1-0. After the controversy, Canada players got even more chippy and there were two hard fouls against Pineda. Mexico took the one goal lead to halftime after a game where they had played below expectations.
The second half started with both teams hoping to improve on their decidedly average performances from the first half. Canada had the first chance when Mexico gave the ball away, giving up a counter attack in which Tajon Buchanan got off a left footed shot that Talavera had to save. Talavera bounced the ball into Edson Alvarez but the rebound went straight back into Talavera’s hands. Then after Mexico’s player inexplicably asked for an offside, Tajon Buchana took a side of the static Mexican defense and he got into the area and got off a shot past Talavera to make it 1-1. Canada got another chance but the Canadian attacker’s shot was deflected. Canada had been the better team in the second half as Mexico continued to have problems. Mexico needed to make a sub and took out Jonathan Dos Santos for Erick Gutierrez. Then after Jesus Corona got brought down by Mark Anthony Kaye, a foul was given. To the surprise of everyone especially the referee, replays showed the foul to be in the area and after going to VAR, the referee gave the penalty. Carlos Salcedo stepped up to take the penalty kick, but it was stopped by Crepeau. It was a really stupid move from a player who easily had been the worst on the field, and will now seal his fate with all his criticism. Mexico started to unravel and Canada started to get better as Salcedo was booed every time he touched the ball. Talavera was forced to make another great save after a left footed shot from Canada. Mexico then subbed out Orbelin Pineda for Rodolfo Pizarro. Mexico had the ball but continued to lose it constantly, producing little to no danger. Mexico would be very close to it when Luis Rodriguez got off a good cross into the area and Funes Mori got a header, but it went just inches wide. To make things worse, the match got stopped by a chant in the ensuing free kick. Mexico would get a good chance off a corner kick when after a header, the ball went right into the path of Pizarro, who got a head on the ball but Crepeau made a great save. After a ball got into the area, Doneil Henry clashed his knee into the head of Alistair Johnston, and it looked to have injured the player. Then in the last minute, after a great play with various players in that Pizarro made a pass into the area and Funes Mori missed it but Hector Herrera got a left footed shot past Crepeau for the 2-1 lead. The game started and both teams got into a major brawl that had to take minutes as Canadian players seemed to get mad at something the Mexican players did. Mexico subbed out Jesus Corona for Nestor Araujo. Mexico had to time to gift Canada a corner kick after Talavera grabbed the ball that was going out. The Mexican players all went to celebrate along with Dos Santos in what was a very emotional but accidental game.
Mexico has had a lot of trouble historically in their Gold Cup semifinals. After the 2003 Gold Cup semifinal 2-0 win against Costa Rica, which was held in Estadio Azteca, Mexico has always had tough matches, some of them the worst of their tournament. After failing to even make it in 2005, Mexico had a 1-0 win against Guadeloupe in 2007 in a game they were expected to do better. In 2009, Mexico’s toughest game was in the semifinal where Miguel Sabah missed a penalty kick and Costa Rica tied in the last minute of the match, on an infamous play where Froylan Ledezma took advantage of a terrible mistake by Juan Carlos Valenzuela. Mexico had to go to a penalty kick shootout. In 2011 Mexico needed to go to extra time to defeat Honduras 2-0. In 2013 Mexico lost against Panama 2-1, the second time they did in the tournament and which ended their participation. In 2015 they faced Panama again and won in one of the most infamous matches in Mexican football history. Even when they were up 11 to 10 players, Panama had the 1-0 lead and were on their way to win the match before referee Mark Geiger gave Mexico a penalty kick which at most was a free kick. Panama protested but Mexico would tie it with it converted by Andres Guardado and then again got another Guardado PK to win it, in a match which Panama and neutral fans claim to have been robbery. In 2017 Mexico was eliminated in the semifinal against Jamaica, and in 2019 they needed extra time and a penalty to beat Haiti. Now they add a 97th minute winning goal against Canada to their cursed history in semifinals.
Mexico got the win but overall they leave a lot of doubts after their performance. The main thing is the role of Carlos Salcedo on the team after winning all the ire of fans with a terrible performance capped by missing a key penalty kick. Salcedo had never taken a penalty outside of a shootout in his career, and the fact that it looked like Funes Mori was going to take it will lead to a lot of questioning of Coach Gerardo Martino’s role and how Salcedo might look like he has unearned privileges in the team. His performances hasn’t shown that he should be a starter, especially when Nestor Araujo has been benched for him. Situations like his controversy with off the field actions and comments on social media are only going to be placed in a bigger spotlight after this. Besides that, it’s tough to think that Martino didn’t study Canada well and didn’t get the plan of how the speed through the wings was hurting Mexico. They also suffered with the Canadian physicality, and Mexico will need to improve against a United States side that hasn’t been impressive but always turns it up against Mexico. The fact Mexico will face their biggest rival now seems like an added pressure to the team after a tournament that looked at once to be Mexico’s saving grace after failing to win the Nations League, but now looks like it could be an anchor for Martino.