Perhaps the most anticipated group stage game at the Gold Cup, Mexico and Costa Rica will battle it out at Chicago’s hallowed Soldier Field on Sunday night.
Both teams will enter the matchup eager to capture the group’s first overall seed with a strong showing. The rendezvous between the CONCACAF giants will also allow old friends to get reacquainted.
New Team, Familiar Face
Never shy and always controversial, Ricardo La Volpe will meet Mexico for the first time since his departure from El Tri in 2006. The former Mexico national team manager now leads a strong Costa Rican side looking to bounce back from a disappointing 1-1 draw against El Salvador.
Unlike Mexico’s previous two opponents, La Volpe’s team will look to pressurise Mexico’s midfield and defensive lines for ninety minutes. La Volpe’s philosophy of team unity via forward line movement can challenge El Tri’s game plan; after all, La Volpe has coached in Mexico for several years and understands the tendencies of Mexico’s players.
A Galvanized Effort
Even with the remaining 17 players left in the squad, Mexico’s main objective is still to win the Gold Cup. Costa Rica is indeed a strong rival, but the fact remains that Mexico still has quality players across the board.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos, and Andres Guardado will have to continue their great collective form if Mexico is to beat an able Costa Rican side.
‘Chicharito’ and company have scored a combined 10 goals and have not conceded a single goal in the tournament to date. Now with the reduced squad, the players that remain with the team have taken added responsibility to maintain the level of consistent play that is expected from the Mexican national team.
Return to Scene of the Crime
The last time Mexico and Costa Rica met at the Gold Cup was at the 2009 semi-finals in Solider Field. Mexico beat Costa Rica in penalty kicks and eventually won the Gold Cup against the United States in 2009. This time around, expect a steady dosage of Bryan Ruiz and Alvaro Saborio on attack for Costa Rica.
El Tri will rely on its version of the triangle offense with Hernandez, Dos Santos, and Guardado ready to punish and harass defenders. Expect a pro-Mexican crowd that will support El Tri to the very last second.
Beef-Gate Scandal Update
Just a few days removed from the doping scandal involving five players from El Tri’s team, Mexico’s director of national teams, Hector Inaturri, accompanied the suspended players to Los Angeles on Friday.
The quintet, including Guillermo Ochoa, Francisco Rodriguez, Christian Bermudez, Edgar Duenas, and Antonio Naelson Sinha, were all tested at a UCLA doping laboratory to investigate the team’s claims that tainted beef and chicken caused the positive tests for the banned substance clenbuterol.
The Mexican Football Federation’s (FMF) main wish is for the results to come back negative and help exonerate the five players of any wrongdoing.
However, if the tests come back inconclusive or prove that the banned substance did not come from contaminated meats, the FMF will have yet another doping controversy on its hands.
Back in 1997, Mexican defender Claudio Suarez tested positive for nandrolone during FIFA’s Confederations Cup. Two years later in Copa America, midfielders Paulo Cesar Chavez and Rodrigo Lara also tested positive for nandrolone. All three players were later exonerated after secondary tests came back negative.
Mexico’s doping history did not end there. Both Aaron Galindo and Salvador Carmona tested positive for norandrosterone in FIFA’s 2005 Confederations Cup. Each player was suspended for a year and Carmona was subsequently suspended for life after a second positive test in 2007.
CONCACAF has not made an official ruling on Mexico’s situation for the Gold Cup. El Tri hopes to count on the players later in the tournament, but will have to wait until the secondary results are revealed later this week.
Group A’s Third-Wheel
El Salvador and Cuba will open up Group A tonight with a third place finish and a potential quarterfinal spot on the line.
El Salvador has shown that they belong among the eight best in the CONCACAF tournament; especially after their first half performance against Mexico and near upset victory over Costa Rica.
In order for La Selecta to advance, Eliseo Quintanilla and Rodolfo Zelaya must produce scoring opportunities against a weak Cuban team that has allowed 10 goals in two games.
Charles Ventura is a freelancer writer contributing Mexican national team coverage to FOX Soccer.