THE 11th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup was held in the United States of America from 5-25 June 2011. This was the 21st overall championships in the North and Central American and Caribbean confederation, which was also celebrating its Golden anniversary.
The 12 teams taking part in the competition where: hosts America, reigning champions Mexico and fellow automatic qualifier Canada, who are the only other nation to have won a Gold Cup besides Mexico and America.
Jamaica, non-FIFA member Guadeloupe, Cuba and Grenada qualified by finishing in the top four in the 2010 Caribbean Championship; while: Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala qualified courtesy of finishing in the top five of the 2011 Copa Centroamericana.
The tournament kicked-off with Group A games Costa Rica vs. Cuba and Mexico vs. El Salvador. Both matches were played in Cowboys Stadium, Arlington (Texas) and were both won 5-0 by Costa Rica and Mexico respectively. Man Utd’s Javier Hernández scored a second-half Hat-Trick for Mexico, who were soon involved in a drugs scandal.
Five Mexico squad members had tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol prior to the start of the tournament and were suspended. The Mexican FA said that the players had eaten contaminated meat but accepted the suspensions. CONCACAF allowed Mexico to replace the players, who’s ‘B’ samples all came back negative.
Mexico didn’t let their off-field problems affect them on the pitch and duly beat Cuba 5-0 and Costa Rica 4-1 to win the group with nine points and 14 goals to their name. Costa Rica just went though as group runners-up ahead of El Salvador on goal difference. El Salvador now had to wait to see if they were one of the two best third-placed teams. Cuba crashed out with a 1-6 defeat by El Salvador, having let in 16 goals and only scored one in their three defeats.
Group B was won by Jamaica who scored seven goals without reply in their three matches which all ended in victory for the Reggae Boyz. Last year’s World Cup participants Honduras finished second in the group on the same amount of points (four) as third placed Guatemala. Grenada proved to be the whipping boys of the group, only scoring once and conceding 15 times as they also lost all three games. They were smashed 1-7 by Honduras in their second game after going 1-0 up.
Hosts America opened with a 2-0 victory over northern neighbours Canada after Panama edged Guadeloupe 3-2 in the opening round of Group C games. The United States were stunned by Panama who beat them 1-2 in their second match, but beat Guadeloupe 1-0 in their last group game to advance in second place behind Panama. Canada were beating Panama 1-0 in their last game and this would have seen Canada into the Quarter-Finals as one of the two best third-placed teams. But Panama equalised in the first minute of stoppage-time through Luis Tejada to knock Canada out.
Guatemala, El Salvador and Canada all finished third in their groups with four points. But Guatemala had a goal difference of +2, El Salvador’s goal difference was zero, whereas Canada’s was -1.
This meant the Quarter-Final line up looked like this: Costa Rica vs. Honduras, Mexico vs. Guatemala, Jamaica vs. U.S.A. and Panama vs. El Salvador.
Costa Rica and Honduras played out a 1-1 draw after extra-time in the first knock-out match. Honduras held their nerve and won the penalty-shoot out 4-2, scoring all of their spot-kicks.
Mexico went behind early against Guatemala thanks to a Carlos Ruiz goal five minutes in. They held on until just after half-time when Aldo de Nigris equalised for the defending champions. Mexico’s winner came from Javier Hernández in the 66th minute.
The United States beat Jamaica 2-0 win in Washington D.C. to book their place in the last four.
Panama again left it late to equalise in their match against El Salvador, who had taken the lead from the penalty spot with only 12 minutes to go. But Tejada scored in the last minute to take the match into extra-time, in which there were no more goals. Dennis Alas missed El Salvador’s first penalty in the shoot-out. This proved to be the only miss of the shoot-out that was won by Panama 5-3. That man Tejada scoring the winner.
The Semi-Finals would see America taking on Panama (who had beaten America in their group match remember) while Honduras had to face Mexico.
Fulham’s Clint Dempsey scored America’s winner against Panama in the 76th minute of their Semi, while Mexico were taken to extra-time by Honduras before de Nigris and Hernández scored in the 93rd and 99th minute respectively to see Mexico into the Final with a 2-0 win.
The Final would see the two highest ranked CONCACAF teams – America and Mexico – taking part in the championship deciding match for the third straight tournament. America won the 2007 Final (2-1) while Mexico won the last Final in 2009 (5-0). This was the fifth time the two would meet in the Final, with Mexico 3-1 up in the head-to-head battle. This would also be America’s eighth Gold Cup Final while this was Mexico’s seventh.
America raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to a an eighth minute header by Aston Villa load signing Michael Bradley (son of the head coach Bob) and a 23rd minute goal by all-time leading U.S. goal scorer Landon Donovan. The crowd of 93,420 inside the Rose Bowl, Pasadena (California) could sense a U.S. victory.
But Mexico had other ideas.
Pablo Barrera got one back for Mexico just before the half-hour. Andrés Guardado equalised on 36 minutes and Barrera scored his second and Mexico’s third five minutes after half-time to give Mexico a 3-2 lead! Mexico’s fourth came after a stunning piece of skill from 22-year-old Giovani dos Santos with 14 minutes left. He dribbled inside the box against five U.S. defenders (including the goalkeeper) before chipping the ball into the top-left corner of the goal over the head of Eric Lichaj. This was later named goal of the tournament, and was the last goal of the tournament as well, as Mexico won the Final 4-2.
So, Mexico are champions of the North and Central America and Caribbean zone for the ninth time. This was their sixth Gold Cup and second consecutive title. They won all six of their matches, scored 22 goals and conceded just four (half of these in the Final itself).
The tournaments’ 25 matches saw 80 goals scored at an average of 3.2 per match. The total attendance was 1,125,120, an average gate of 45,005 per match.
Mexico’s Javier Hernández ‘The Little Pea‘ finished as top goal scorer with seven goals to his name, and was also named player of the tournament.Honduras’s goalkeeper Noel Valladares was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament. Mexico also collected the Fair Play Award for receiving the least amount of cards.
Mexico have now qualified for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil as the CONCACAF representative. They join hosts Brazil, World (and current European champions) Spain and Asian champions Japan.
El Tricolor will now travel to Argentina to take part in the Copa América as one of two invitee teams (the other being Costa Rica). Could Mexico become champions of all the Americas? We’ll find out by 24 July.