Of the 42 games played thus far in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, maybe the best of them all was Thursday night, the semifinal at Soldier Field in Chicago between Costa Rica and Mexico. In a game that saw two goals in the final six minutes and two overtime periods, Mexico advanced to the final of the Gold Cup, beating Costa Rica 5-3 on penalty kicks. Mexico moves on to play the U.S. in the final of the Gold Cup on Sunday.
It will be a tough loss to swallow for La Sele, the nickname of the Costa Rican team, who played valiantly in a game that saw little difference between two quality teams. Mexico advances to their second consecutive Gold Cup final against the U.S. The U.S., who beat Honduras 2-0 on Thursday night, has won the previous two Gold Cup championships.
Through the first 87 minutes of the game, both teams had several opportunities, though neither was able to score.
Then Mexico broke the tie.
In the 87th minute, Costa Rica was unable to clear the ball out of their 18-yard box after a corner kick. The ball bounced to Mexican midfielder Gerardo Torrado, who lifted a pass to Guillermo Franco. Franco took a touch and fired a shot from 10 yards that was slowed by Costa Rican goalkeeper Keilor Navas, but trickled across the goal line, despite Navas´ late dive and attempt to throw it back into play.
With Mexico leading 1-0 with three minutes left in regulation, hope looked lost for Costa Rica. But the Ticos didn´t give up.
In the 3rd minute of injury time, the 93rd minute of the game, Costa Rican defender Harold Wallace sent a long ball forward. Forward Alonso Saborio jumped and headed the ball into the path of substitute Froylan Ledezma. Ledezma slipped between two defenders and struck a first time left footed shot into the top right corner of the net.
Suddenly, the Ticos were alive and the game was going into overtime.
In the first overtime, Mexico dominated play, creating several chances but was unable to score. The best chance of the first overtime was orchestrated by forward Giovanni Dos Santos, who ran past the Costa Rica defense and sent a cross through the six-yard box. The pass found Mexican midfielder Carlos Vela who, despite an open net, whiffed on a shot attempt and wasted the opportunity in the 97th minute.
The Ticos had several attempts on goal in the second overtime, though at the conclusion of 120 minutes, the score finished tied 1-1.
In the penalty shootout, both teams made their first two attempts, but, after Mexican midfielder Torrado converted to give Mexico a 3-2 shootout advantage, Ledezma´s penalty shot was saved by Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. Mexico converted their next two penalty kicks to win the shootout and eliminate the Ticos from the Gold Cup.
In the first half, Costa Rica had the better of the play, as midfielder Armando Alonso hit the post in the 11th minute and created several opportunities for the Ticos. In the 55th minute, Costa Rican defender Freddy Fernández had an inadvertent handball in the box and Mexico was awarded a penalty kick. Midfielder Miguel Sabah shot low to his right, but Navas guessed right and saved the shot to keep the game scoreless.
The game was played in front of a sold out, heavily pro-Mexican, Soldier Field in Chicago. The final will be played Sunday at 3 p.m. (1 p.m. Costa Rica) at Giants Stadium.