SAN ANTONIO, Texas. At the Alamodome, El Tri knew it could win its Gold Cup group with either a win or draw against debutants Curacao. And with goals coming from Angel Sepulveda (22′) and Edson Alvarez (90′), Mexico did just that, defeating Curacao 2-0.
After Jamaica and El Salvador played to a 1-1 draw and the final matches from Groups A and B, El Tri knew that they were already through to the Last 8 of the Gold Cup, and Curacao were eliminated. Despite the lack of purpose for the match, Curacao still looked to test an El Tri side who switched out 10 starters from the match against Jamaica.
And early on in the match, Curacao were able to win the ball off Mexico high up the pitch and find forwards Gino van Kessell and Leandro Bacuna in dangerous, central shooting positions. But Jesus Corona, as well as poor technique, helped to diffuse the danger early.
And once the game reached the 20th minute, Mexico started to grow into the game. And in the 22nd minute, off a counter, Raul ‘Dedos’ Lopez took advantage of a mental lapse in defense for Curacao and found Angel Sepulveda on a long cross to open the scoring for El Tri. Sepulveda took advantage of a lost mark attacking the goal from the far post and sent a header past Curacao keeper Eloy Room to do so.
But the Antilleans fought back in the second half and utilized their possession, ball-reading, and ability to work the ball through the midfield with connected, short passes and generated several chance. After an opening period where Leandro Bacuna became the protagonist and generated two shots that forced a response from Jesus Corona early in the half, Curacao generated their most elaborate chance of the match.
A long passing sequence of short passes through the center zones of the midfield and attack resulted in a point blank shot from inside the penalty area that forced a reflex save from Jesus Corona. A follow-up shot after Corona’s initial parry beat the Cruz Azul-based netminder, but the rising shot only hit the crossbar.
Eventually, after the substitution of Elias Hernandez onto the pitch, Mexico became the protagonists on the pitch. And through a couple shots by the Leon extremo, El Tri forced Eloy Room to keep his team in the match with a few saves.
Cesar Montes also came close to bagging Mexico’s second goal five minutes from the end of the 90. But his glancing header off a corner kick could only find the top of the crossbar before re-entering play away from goal.
Five minutes later, directly off an errant clearance from Michael Maria, Edson Alvarez stretched Mexico’s lead to 2-0 with a simple, low shot on a goal which had been vacated by Eloy Room.
With the win, Mexico (2-1-0, 7 pts) finish atop Group C advance to face Group A third place finsishers Honduras in their quarterfinal match in Glendale, Arizona on July 20. Curacao (0-0-3, 0 pts) might not have been able to score a goal or earn a win. But their manager Remmo Bicentini and fans have to be happy with how brave and effective at times the selection showed in their football, and hope this Gold Cup is a blueprint for the current Caribbean Cup holders to gain a larger foothold in CONCACAF football.