Here's five morsels to chew on concerning El Tri's come-from-behind 2011 Gold Cup final win.
Despite going down two goals early on, Mexico kept its cool and ended up winning the Gold Cup final over the arch-rival United States by a 4-2 scoreline.
Strong play from recently-relegated wingers Andres Guardado and Pablo Barrera, both of whom scored, helped turn the tide and give El Tri four unanswered goals. Not even two first-half defensive injuries or the deficit could undermine Jose Manuel de la Torre's game plan and the superior side lifted the Gold Cup trophy.
Here's a breakdown of five of the more interesting points to emerge from the hugely entertaining final.
1. Mexico resumes top-dog status in CONCACF
American fans wrote off the 2009 Gold Cup final as inconsequential given the absence of any first-team regulars on the U.S. roster. That excuse holds no weight here. Whatever problems Bob Bradley's side had, this was the strongest group of players in America.
Both teams exited the 2010 World Cup at the par of Round of 16. Given Mexico's bright outlook under De la Torre and the USA's struggles transitioning cycles, El Tri holds the outright upper hand in the rivalry for the first time in probably a decade.
2. Resilience won this cup
Mexico took some criticism for the beleaguered way it scraped through the knockout rounds. Guatemala managed to score first in the quarterfinal, and Honduras took El Tri to extra time in the semi. Likewise, in the final, the Americans raced to a 2-0 lead in less than half an hour.
But poor starts aren't the story here; resiliency is. Mexico persisted and eventually broke the back of Guatemala's bunker defense. Mexico persisted and overpowered Honduras in extra time with two set piece goals. And Mexico persisted and outplayed the USA for the last hour of the final to win the Gold Cup.
What's interesting is that, unlike in the quarters and semis, De la Torre never had to turn to Aldo de Nigris. Mexico won with its initial game plan – by keeping the ball on the ground, playing slick passes, moving into gaps smoothly, and in general pulling apart the U.S. defense little by little. A rather slow American defense helped, as did the sheer existence of Jonathan Bornstein. Especially down the flanks, where Gio Dos Santos would drift to link up with Barerra and Guardado, the U.S. panted alongside but couldn't get a cleat to the ball.
3. The reshuffled defense bent but never broke
In the first half, defensive stalwarts Carlos Salcido, who was carrying a heel injury and probably shouldn't have started, and captain Rafael Marquez limped out of the game injured. Mexico's back line, which had been disorganized and folding in on itself already, could have devolved into pure chaos.
Credit substitutes Héctor Reynoso and Jorge Torres Nilo, a teammate of Bornstein's at Tigres, for finding the pace of the game immediately upon entering, but the bulk of the praise should go to Hector Moreno for ably marshaling his back line into a coherent wall after usual organizer Marquez left.
In the second half, with limited fitness allowing the U.S. a host of chances as the two aging Mexican central midfielders struggled to keep up, the defense came under tremendous amounts of pressure. At times it wasn't at all pretty, such as when five Mexicans seemed to blow over in their own box and Clint Dempsey pinged a shot off the underside of the crossbeam. But somehow the makeshift defense – featuring, don't forget, the inexperienced Alfredo Talavera in goal exposing his insecurities by panicking at any cross lofted into the box – only conceded the two.
4. Quick response and quicker restarts pay off
The key, when a team goes down early in a game, is to hit back just as early. Mexico won this game in the first half, by leveling the score at 2-2 before the break and ensuring it took momentum into the second stanza. Had El Tri waited until the second half to start playing, the U.S. would have bedded in deep and likely preserved the lead.
Two of Mexico's goals came from quick-thinking after restarts. Barrera's first came seconds after a substitution. With the U.S. perhaps still considering how the move would affect the game, Barrera one-timed a long feed near side past the statue of Tim Howard in the U.S. goal. Then, the second half had just begun when the West Ham winger finished his second.
That extra bit of mental clarity, the concentration to exploit momentary hesitations, that ruthlessness – well, let's just say it would be wasted in the English Championship next year.
5. Mentality trumps fitness
Mexico had a huge fitness deficit heading into the final. Already stripped of five players from its roster for the “tainted chicken” incident, El Tri had played the later semifinal in Houston on Wednesday. That game went into extra time, giving the Mexican players less time to recover during a quick turnaround for the final Saturday.
Plus, with two substitutions forced by injuries, De la Torre had no leeway to rest any ailing players (in many ways, he was exceptionally lucky his relatively early insertion of Jesus Zavala for Barrera didn't backfire horribly). With Israel Castro and Gerrardo Torrado both struggling to keep up with the fitter American midfield, especially at the beginning of the second half, Mexico threatened to throw its lead away.
What do you do when your one-goal lead and fatigued players are under tremendous duress? Why, score the most outrageous goal of the tournament, of course. Bornstein (and a host of other tepid tackles) provided the chance, and Dos Santos provided the brilliance. With a two-goal cushion, Mexico found it easier to push its weary bodies through to the end of 90 minutes and win.
America isn't the only country in North America with a bit of heart.
Zac Lee Rigg is an editor of Goal.com. Send him doting poetry or compliment his fluttering eyelashes through email or Twitter.
Visit our Gillette Fusion Proglide Gold Cup center to weigh in on today's game!