Mexico escape brawl with Canada to book highly-anticipated USMNT rematch

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There were moments in Thursday night's Gold Cup clash with Canada where Mexico were on the ropes. It looked a very real possibility that El Tri's run could end in disaster for a team that has only two possible outcomes: trophy or failure.

Yet for all of the nervy moments, Mexico did what they usually do: win Gold Cup games, no matter how ugly things have to get for them to do so. Somehow, someway, we got the Gold Cup final we all expected.

After seeing the U.S. men's national team book their spot with a gritty win over Qatar, Canada gave Mexico everything they could handle in the other semifinal. It wasn't enough, for one reason or another, as El Tri held on to seal a 2-1 victory thanks to a last-gasp winner.

In the end, Mexico left the field knowing that they still have one more game to play against their biggest rivals in a few day's time. Expectations met, at least so far.

They'll thank Hector Herrera and Rodolfo Pizarro for that, with the former smashing home a lovely pass across the box from the latter in the 99th minute of play.

They'll also thank lady luck a little bit too for the continuation of their Gold Cup journey as they survived a tough test from a Canada team that will now know it can compete among the best ahead of World Cup qualifiers.

At the start, the game went about as expected, with Mexico taking the lead just moments before halftime through an Orbelin Pineda penalty. The lead-up to that penalty was certainly chaotic, with a coming together between the two teams featuring an obvious jab and an obvious choke that went uncalled.

In the end, it was a Jorginho-like finish from Pineda, who sent El Tri into halftime with that much-needed one-goal lead.

Mexico Canada brawl Gold Cup GFX

That lead didn't last long into the second half thanks to Canadian star Tajon Buchanan, who added a highlight-reel goal to a resume that will almost certainly include a move to Europe at some point soon.

It was a goal that ignited Canada, who started to play like a team that believed it could truly pick up a statement win over the tournament favorites after pushing to the USMNT to the brink earlier on.

That belief was tested nine minutes after Buchanan's goal when Mexico were awarded a controversial penalty for a foul just inside the box.

Carlos Salcedo stepped up to take it, having been at least partially at fault for the goal moments earlier, and fired it right at goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. Salcedo, of all people, will be thankful for the result, which will spare him some tough headlines back in Mexico.

From that point forward, it truly felt like anyone's game. Both teams had moments and both teams had fight, both metaphorically and literally as the two often forced the referee into action with scuffles. Seemingly destined for extra-time, Herrera's goal sealed the win within normal time, at least technically.

The finish came just before the 100th minute, and the game only went that long due to the behavior of Mexico fans in attendance. The chant was out in full force once again, with the game being stopped for several minutes to pave the way for Herrera's last-gasp winner.

Canada will feel hard done by that fact, and some will certainly call it an injustice. CONCACAF continues to fail to truly punish the behavior they say they want to eradicate. At some point soon, something dramatic will have to change, and it certainly wasn't on Thursday as Mexico somehow benefitted from the stoppage caused by their own fans.

Canada's tournament is now over, injustice or not, while Mexico's will last a few days longer.

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Now, they'll look ahead to a rematch with the USMNT, although this is a U.S. squad vastly different than the one that beat Mexico in the Nations League final. El Tri won't care a bit; Sunday's final is a chance to assert dominance once again in a competition they've traditionally owned.

The expectations remain the same for Mexico: trophy or failure. Perhaps Thursday's win was only delaying that failure as they'll now take on a USMNT side that's allowed just one goal so far this tournament. The U.S. hasn't ever looked truly dominant this tournament in the way Mexico has in flashes, but they've certainly steady the whole way through.

Or perhaps Thursday's win was just a speedbump on the road to another trophy. Perhaps Thursday's battle was just a prequel to one last push to claim a trophy that everyone has always believed has been destined to fall back into El Tri's grasp.