ATLANTA – Andres Guardado scored twice on penalty kicks Wednesday to give Mexico a 2-1 extra-time triumph over 10-man Panama and a berth against Jamaica in the Gold Cup final.
The Mexican captain had to wait through a melee at the end of regulation time before netting the equalizer, then scored again from the spot in stoppage time of the first of two extra 15-minute periods to finally subdue a Panama side than was a man down after only 25 minutes but still managed to nearly win.
Panama striker Luis Tejada was issued a red card by U.S. referee Mark Geiger for a rough foul, but Panama took the lead on a header by captain Roman Torres in the 57th minute and was on the verge of an emotional victory.
But in the 89th minute, Torres was whistled for a hand ball violation in the penalty area, falling onto the ball after contact with a Mexico forward.
A two-team confrontation followed as Panama players argued Geiger’s call. Both teams followed him to the sidelines to plead their cases and tensions reached a boiling point with shoving and grabbing as spectators hurled food and garbage at players and officials.
Calm was eventually restored, but the extended mess took so long that by the time Guardado left-footed his first penalty kick into the bottom right corner to equalize, it was the 10th minute of stoppage time.
Just three days earlier, Mexico had needed a Guardado stoppage time penalty kick after a controversial foul call beyond the 120th minute to defeat Costa Rica 1-0 in the quarter-finals.
This time, Guardado advanced El Tricolores into 30 minutes of extra time and once again made himself the hero after Panama’s Herold Cummings fouled Mexico’s Javier Orozco in the penalty area.
Guardado stepped to the spot and left-footed a blast into the left corner to put Mexico ahead to stay.
At the final whistle, two Panama players raced from the sidelines onto the field, chasing referee Geiger, before being restrained by teammates. The referee exited the field surrounded by a tight ring of police and security guards.
The Mexicans will try to extend their record to seven Gold Cup titles on Sunday in Philadelphia by taking their third crown in four events with a triumph over the first Caribbean side to reach the Gold Cup championship match.
Jamaica’s “Reggae Boyz” shocked the United States 2-1 in the day’s other semi-final surprise.
Panama had beaten Mexico 2-1 in the 2013 Gold Cup semi-finals before losing 1-0 to the U.S. squad.
Let's just quit pretending like you weren't a couple minutes from losing to a 10 man Panama team.
— US Soccer Feed (@ussoccerfeed) July 23, 2015
The biggest first-half headache came when Tejada was issued a red card. Tejada complained and argued as teammates steered him slowly off the pitch, where he yelled back as he was walking off, sparking fans to hurl items at him. Only after Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa escorted him to the tunnel did the barrage cease.
That set the stage for Panama captain Torres to open the scoring. The veteran defender received a corner kick at the far post, headed the ball to the ground and watched as it bounced in just inside the post and to the right of Ochoa.