SAN ANTONIO — Mexico has a chance to get a statement win on Sunday to take Gold Cup Group C and generate momentum before the knockout stage.
All El Tri needs to do is beat Curacao.
That may not seem difficult as Curacao is not one of the giants of the sport. But as both coaches said in the news conferences the day before the game, the Caribbean side has nothing to lose.
It's been a while since Mexico has put a goleada on a team — putting up a big number and keeping a clean sheet. June's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win against Honduras may count, but El Tri seem overdue for another. The days of walking through the Gold Cup group stage are gone, but this young team would get a big boost of confidence were it able to put several past Curacao on Sunday.
Mexico fans and the former players who regularly share their opinions about the team often make the mistake of thinking competition in the region will lay down against El Tri. Perhaps they won't have the same analysis of Curacao after watching Jamaica hold Mexico scoreless in Denver three days before Sunday's final matchday.
But while many commentators theorize that Curacao will look to do the same thing the Reggae Boyz did, they're ignoring the fact that it would be a big mistake for the reigning Caribbean champion to do so. The team's defense has been weakened with Cuco Martina leaving the tournament to sign with Everton and a few other players not available. On the attack, though, Curacao has been dangerous. A penalty save from Derby Carrillo denied the side a goal against El Salvador and there were several other chances. Like Mexico on Thursday, Curacao simply couldn't finish.
"We’re going to play our own style," Curacao coach Remko Bicentini said through a translator. "We’re dealing with players that have left us, but we’ll be able to play our own style. We have a group that’s a little inexperienced, but they also showed they can do the job. Of course, Cuco Martina is a player with experience who plays in the Premier League and we will miss him in games like this. We’re talking about defense but on the other hand we have created enough chances to score goals."
Osorio agreed with the idea that Curacao was the team with more opportunities to find the back of the net in Thursday's game against El Salvador and said Mexico has plenty of respect for its opponent even if the side has yet to get off the mark in the Gold Cup.
"We think they have a very good team with nearly all of them having experience in Holland," Osorio said. "Leandro Bacuna, who plays with Aston Villa, as the No. 7 and we think the two wingers, (Gevaro) Nepomuceno and (Jarchinio) Antonia, are very good players, the first inverted playing on the right, the second really fast. And in general, it’s a very athletic team. We think we have to respect them and try to control them with good circulation. That’s why we’re going with the lineup that we’re going to use (Sunday)."
The game will have a lot more in common with the 4-4 draw with Trinidad and Tobago in the final group match of the 2015 Gold Cup than El Tri's meeting with Jamaica. Curacao may play a less open game than the one it played against El Salvador, but without the back line Jamaica boasts, it will be difficult to keep Mexico off the scoreboard. However, the side may be able to score a goal of its own, similar to the one Nelson Bonilla netted in Mexico's opening match.
Ultimately, though, this is a game where Mexico should be able to get a big win that would send a statement that this team, despite being an alternate side, is good enough to win this competition. Mexico will advance regardless of the result, but the window is open for the team to pick up momentum ahead of a run to the title.
Mexico fans might not see it the same way, but goals against Curacao aren't easy to come by and big wins in the Gold Cup in 2017 have proven tough as well.
The opportunity is there. Now Mexico has to take it.