Gold Cup
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Jamaica 1, Mexico 3 | CONCACAF Gold Cup Match Recap

PHILADELPHIA – Mired in controversy and engulfed in pressure, Mexico saved their best for last, breezing past Jamaica to capture a record seventh Gold Cup title that sets up a fascinating Confederations Cup playoff against the United States on October 9.

A largely pro-Mexican crowd of 68,930, a record for soccer at Lincoln Financial Field and the city of Philadelphia, watched as Andres Guardado put the exclamation point on a magnificent tournament with a first-half volley and Jesus ‘Tecacito’ Corona and Oribe Peralta added goals in the second half to fuel a 3-1 victory that was never really in doubt.

Winners in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011 and now 2015, El Tri led the tournament in goals scored (16) and shots (106). Guardado was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, and the 22-year-old Corona was named the top young player after scoring two goals, including the game-winner in the final.

Following controversial victories against Costa Rica and Panama in the quarterfinals and semifinals, El Tri finally showed what they’re capable of against a Jamaica side playing in their first-ever Gold Cup final. The Reggae Boyz historic run, meanwhile, ended in disappointment, a pair of uncharacteristic defensive errors undoing a month of work that saw Jamaica’s standing in CONCACAF rise considerably.

After a lackluster victory in the semifinals that saw striker Carlos Vela pick up a yellow card that ruled him out of the final, Mexico head coach Miguel ‘Piojo’ Herrera made to two changes to his XI, replacing Vela with Corona and dropping midfielder Hector Herrera for Jesus Duenas. The moves paid off.

Herrera’s counterpart, Jamaica boss Winfried Schaefer, stuck with the team that put the Reggae Boyz on the brink of history with one exception, as Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks went to the bench to make room for former San Jose Earthquakes man Simon Dawkins.

Jamaica, once again clear underdogs against one of CONCACAF’s giants after defeating the United States in the semis, began brightly, but Mexico’s talent eventually shone through in a first half that saw Guardado reinforce his place as the tournament’s best player and a second in which El Tri comfortably put the game to bed.

The Mexican deluge began in the 25th minute, a series of headers in and around the area setting Corona up to nod an effort low and to the left of Jamaica goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, who got down quickly to push it wide of goal. Duenas followed with a tight-angle shot that was barely wide, and Corona sent another shot high before an iconic moment from Guardado made it 1-0 in the 31st minute.

With space to survey his options, Jonathan dos Santos switched play from left to right, finding midfield partner Duenas on the right flank with room to cross. His service picked out an unmarked Guardado at the back post, where the tournament’s Golden Ball winner opened his body and struck a left-footed volley that made a beeline for the top corner.

With the goal, Guardado, named the Eredivisie’s Most Valuable Player after leading PSV to the title in 2014/15, became the first player to score in three Gold Cup finals (2007, 2011, 2015). He finished the tournament with six goals, one behind Golden Boot winner Clint Dempsey.

Though they made it to halftime without conceding a second, Jamaica, one the tournament’s top defensive teams, saw their title chances snuffed out by a Corona goal just two minutes into the second half. It came via a defensive gaffe by centerback Michael Hector, who lingered on the ball and turned it over, gifting Corona a direct path to goal that ended with a shot inside the back post.

Hector’s rough night in the CONCACAF spotlight wasn’t over, either. Mexico made it 3-0 in the 61st minute after the Reading defender whiffed on a simple clearance just outside the six-yard box. Oribe Peralta pounced on the loose ball, sweeping a low shot past a helpless Thompson.

With Mexico pushing for a fourth, Schaefer went to his bench in search of inspiration. Mattocks gave the Reggae Boyz a lifeline in the 80th minute. Isolated 1v1 on the left side of the area, the ‘Caps striker cut inside and curled a right-footed shot past Guillermo Ochoa.

But Jamaica’s hope was short-lived. Salvadoran referee Joel Aguilar, who avoided controversy in the final after a knockout stage practically defined by it, blew his whistle to signal full time, sparking mostly muted celebrations by Mexico. El Tri will now meet the United States, the 2013 Gold Cup champions, in a one-game playoff match on Oct. 9 to determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

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