PASADENA, California, (Reuters) – Mexico won the CONCACAF Gold Cup yesterday with a 4-2 victory over the United States in a hugely entertaining final played in front of 93,000 fans.
The pulsating game was a fitting finale to a tournament boasting plenty of goals and attacking games in front of bumper attendances and Mexico, with their exciting young team, were deserved champions for a record sixth time.
Mexico had to fight back from 2-0 down after 23 minutes but with Giovani dos Santos at his sparkling best, Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez a constant threat and Pablo Barrera causing havoc on the right wing, they ran out convincing winners.
“They’re as dynamic as any (Mexico) team I’ve played against,” U.S. forward Landon Donovan told reporters.
“They have a few guys who can change the game in a heart beat. They have some special players and they’re explosive and if you give them space they’re going to make plays,” he added.
A huge Mexican contingent in the crowd at the Rose Bowl brought a festive atmosphere to the ageing venue for the 1994 World Cup final but the pre-game ‘Futbol Fiesta’ came to a halt soon after kickoff.
The U.S. took the lead in the eighth minute when midfielder Michael Bradley, son of coach Bob, nodded in a Freddy Adu corner with a sublime angled glancing header.
The hosts were forced into an early change, though, when fullback Steve Cherundolo sustained an ankle injury and was replaced by Jonathan Bornstein, a move that had a big impact on the game with the substitute struggling down the left.
The switch didn’t initially disrupt the attacking flow of Bradley’s team who kept surging forward to exploit opponents who appeared rattled by the early assault.
The approach paid off handsomely in the 24th minute when Clint Dempsey fed Landon Donovan, the United States’ all-time top scorer celebrating his return to the starting line-up with the coolest of left-foot finishes.
The Mexicans soon woke up from their evening siesta and within five minutes Pablo Barrera had raced past Bornstein onto a long ball from Javier Hernandez and driven it past a stationary Tim Howard to reduce the deficit.
Suddenly bubbling with confidence, Mexico struck the equaliser in the 36th minute when Dos Santos cut in from the right-flank and hit a low shot into the area which hit defender Clarence Goodson. Andres Guardado pounced on the deflection to squeeze a shot under the body of keeper Howard.
The U.S. left the field looking shell-shocked at the break while Mexico’s confident body language told the story of a determined comeback.
The hosts needed to get a quick grip on the game in midfield if they were to stem Mexico’s attacking flow but their southern neighbours were in no mood to ease off.
Guardado fed Barrera inside the area and his low shot beat Howard and went in just inside the far post to make it 3-2.
The U.S. came close to levelling when Clint Dempsey hit the bar with a fine strike from the edge of the area.
But the game was settled in style by Dos Santos, who was forced to dribble away from goal after failing to round Howard but produced an inch-perfect chip that evaded defender Eric Lichaj on the line and floated into the top corner.
The sealer sparked chants of ‘Ole, Ole’ from the stands and marked the start of a loud and long party sure to last well into the southern California night.
“We are the best team in the Cup and that’s all that matters at the moment,” said a beaming Hernandez.