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Kings of Concacaf: Mexico earns right to sit on throne once again

04:36 IST 08/07/2019
Mexico Gold Cup final 2019
With contributions from veterans and young players, El Tri wrested back the Gold Cup from the U.S. and proved they're the top team in the region

It's one thing to say it. It's another thing to prove it. Sunday night at Soldier Field, Mexico topped the United States and proved once again it is the King of Concacaf. 

El Tri's fans have never stopped saying it. Many didn't even think the Gold Cup was worthy of Mexico's presence, with El Tri perhaps better suited for Copa America. But as we saw during the entire knockout stage of the competition, with Sunday no exception, Concacaf can boast of talented teams beyond simply Mexico. 

Mexico, however, is at the top. El Tri didn't win the last Gold Cup, and even entering this tournament with the favorite tag there was plenty of doubt about whether the team could do it with some of its strongest players from the 2018 World Cup missing because of injury, like PSV winger Hirving Lozano, or individual decision. 

This group of Mexico players, featuring many members of the next generation for El Tri, got it done. Uriel Antuna came out of nowhere to score four times for the team. Carlos Rodriguez could start for El Tri at the next World Cup if it were tomorrow. Edson Alvarez will head to Europe as a regional champion after taking control of a game in which he had to battle Michael Bradley and Wetson McKennie.  

"Young players are starting to show up, and they're adjusting well. When there's a title, you gain confidence," manager Tata Martino said in his post-match news conference. "We'll be better with those who haven't been able to come to the team because of different purposes, if we only think about one of the three best players in the Dutch league, he wasn't with us because of a knee injury.

"We have no reason not to be better, and after that we'll analyze who comes in and who doesn't. I'm really happy with how the team has started to function in the first six months of the process." 

While fans can get excited about the young blood, a pair of veterans had the biggest plays of the night. In the 73rd minute, Jonathan dos Santos held off an American midfielder to keep possession and found Rodolfo Pizarro. As the creative player went to work, the 29-year-old Dos Santos continued his run into the box. After Pizarro found Raul Jimenez in the box, the forward slipped Dos Santos into perfect shooting position with a slick back-heeled pass that Dos Santos smashed past Zack Steffen for the deciding goal. 

El Tri would have been down had it not been for a save off the line from midfielder Andres Guardado. Seeing the vacancy in the net on a 51st-minute corner kick, the Mexico captain rushed to the line and was there just in time to head away a goal-bound shot from Jordan Morris. 

As the music went off and the Mexico players celebrated by hugging, jumping in a circle and pumping up the sold-out crowd, you could see how much it meant to the players. No matter which generation they were from, they've become a team during this process.

"Some guys didn’t come for injuries and such, but that opened the door for other talents, for the future of this national team, which showed in this tournament that they’re on a really good path," Guardado said. "As a Mexican and a veteran player, it makes you calm because you know you’re leaving the team in good hands and they definitely can achieve what maybe you couldn’t in so many years."

Martino, managing Mexico in a major tournament for the first time, has emphasized that his first task was to put together a team that knows how to win. Now, his biggest job is to get a team that understands the style he wants it to play. 

The style was on display in all its glory and with all its flaws Sunday night. The first half was even, with the United States able to take advantage of several transitions. Jozy Altidore missed a glorious chance to give the Americans the lead heading into the halftime break, the lowlight of a 30 minutes in which the U.S. came out and played some of its best football of the tournament. 

"I told the players that there was no doubt that what got us closer to the title was imposing our style of play," Martino said. "When you win, few people remember that the team wasn't able to implement its style. With what we did in the second half, we've won putting in our idea, having courage and in a final these and some individual high points ... are elements to have in mind."

It's worth having in mind as well that the United States was the reigning champion of this competition. It's also worth highlighting the fact that the United States pushed Mexico, with El Tri able to win by only the slightest margin. It was a good final, worthy of being the deciding game in a tournament that has been full of surprises - one of which being the sheer number of surprise results we saw. 

In the end, though, it was the two regional giants battling it out once again. In the end, Mexico showed once again that it's the King of Concacaf.