Mexico recognizes luck might not last in Gold Cup final

Miguel Herrera and his players have seen fortune smile upon them but realize they can't depend on luck, writes Jon Arnold.

ATLANTA — There was no spin coming from the Mexico camp after the team's 2-1 extra-time win against Panama.

No players tried to convince reporters a penalty call that led to Andres Guardado sending the match to extra time from the spot was the right one for referee Mark Geiger to make. Manager Miguel Herrera, who usually spends his time complaining about calls Mexico doesn't get, said El Tri shouldn't have gotten the controversial 89th-minute penalty call.

There was another truth that came through as well: Mexico simply wasn't very good Wednesday night.

"Realistically, today we played a bad match," Guardado said. "We have to recognize that. We played an ugly match in which we lacked clarity. With a player more, we didn't have the scoring chances we had against Costa Rica which had 11 men. And, well, you have to think about that because if we play like we did tonight, we'll surely lose the final."

Herrera fell back on the phrase that his team wasn't good, acknowledging various weak points of his team, specifically its inability to create dangerous chances against a Panama team that was reduced to 10 men in the first half after Luis Tejeda was sent off for throwing an arm into Maza Rodriguez's face.

"It's clear to me we didn't play well at all," Herrera said in a news conference after the match. "The first one isn't a penalty.

"The truth is, it's not a penalty. We saw it in the match. What do you want me to say? It's not my fault [a penalty was given]. I'm very worried about the team getting better. Today we didn't play well at all. We didn't deserve the match because we didn't attack well, we didn't create any opportunities at goal."

It's a welcome shift in tone from the manager, though he did again mention previous calls that have gone against Mexico during the tournament. The problems in attack were clear. Carlos Vela and Oribe Peralta were practically invisible, taken out of the match by Panama's center-back duo of Roman Torres and Harold Cummings. Even when Peralta would get wide, his service was lacking its usual class.

Though he's struggling, Vela is an important player for Mexico, an important player El Tri will be missing Sunday when they meet Jamaica in the final. Vela sent an elbow into Anibal Godoy early in the match and will miss the final because of yellow-card accumulation.

That leaves Herrera with Peralta and Javier "Chuletita" Orozco if Giovani dos Santos doesn't make a return from injury. Peralta started the tournament hot with a hat trick against Cuba, but has yet to add to those goals, while Orozco made no impact on Wednesday's match after coming on as a substitute.

While Jamaica might not be a giant in the region, the Reggae Boyz have earned their way to the final with strong defense and a cautious but quick counterattack that can give teams trouble. Against the United States, Jamaica also showed it can threaten on set pieces.

El Tri have been poor both trying to convert and defending dead balls (with the exception of Guardado's coolly taken penalty kicks) and could be susceptible to the threat. Luckily for Mexico, Herrera is taking a rational approach to preparation for Sunday as well.

"Jamaica won because it turned in a strong showing, the U.S. also played a great match," Herrera said. "Jamaica isn't an easy team, it controls the ball well, has fast players, very good players, and it won't be anything easy."

As much as Lady Luck has smiled on Mexico at the Gold Cup up to this point, Herrera and his team must know that their luck could run out on Sunday. El Tri haven't played good soccer this tournament, but they will likely need their best performance of the Gold Cup to be crowned champions and book a place in the Confederations Cup play-in match against the U.S. in October.