The US will meet Mexico for a third straight Gold Cup final after the two regional powers won hard-fought semi-finals on Wednesday.
The hosting Americans edged Panama 1-0 with a goal from Clint Dempsey, while Mexico needed extra time and goals from Aldo de Nigris and Javier Hernandez to see off Honduras 2-0.
The US avenged a shock loss to Panama in the group stage; their first ever loss to the central American nation and their first ever defeat in a Gold Cup group-stage game.
Fulham forward Dempsey, who also scored in the Americans’ 2-0 win over Jamaica in the quarter-finals, said the team proved its resolve in the hard-fought rematch.
“We showed our quality in being able to grind out a result even though it wasn’t our best game,” Dempsey said.
Freddy Adu made a long-awaited return to the American team in the second half and set up the winning goal with a long, slanting pass to Landon Donovan, who threaded a pass through the Panama defense to Dempsey, who slid in to knock the ball into the corner of the net.
“It was a great ball from Freddy to open up Landon,” Dempsey said. “All I had to do was put my foot on it.”
Donovan began on the bench for the second straight game and joined the action in the second half to play his 27th straight Gold Cup match, extending the record he already held.
Panama lost to the Americans in the knockout stage for the fourth straight time. Coach Julio Dely Valdes said his team surprised the Americans in their match 11 days ago, and the US was more focused this time.
“It was a very intense game, very few chances for both teams,” Dely Valdes said. “I’m pleased with my team’s performance, they fought until the very end.”
In the later game, Mexico was frustrated by the hard-tackling Hondurans and the 90 minutes ended scoreless.
Mexico’s opponent in the final tomorrow will be the US, which earlier beat Panama 1-0. It will be the third straight Gold Cup final between the two regional powers.
In the third minute of extra time, de Nigris put Mexico ahead following a corner, and Manchester United forward Hernandez used his right hip to knock in another corner six minutes later to make it 2-0, delighting the 70,000-strong mainly pro-Mexico crowd.
Hernandez leads the tournament with seven goals, the second-most ever in a single Gold Cup. Mexico’s Luis Roberto Alves scored 11 in 1993. The young man dubbed “Chicharito” (little pea) was expecting a tough challenge against Mexico’s northern neighbor.
“They are a complicated rival,” Hernandez said. “We have to rest up, enjoy this victory and then we’ll think about them beginning tomorrow.”
Both teams played a physical game, with Honduras getting 10 yellow cards and Mexico three. Roger Espinoza picked up two yellows in quick time in the second period of extra time.
“We knew it would be tough,” Mexico coach Jose Manuel de La Torre said. “Our team struggled to find the spaces we were looking for, sometimes because of us being imprecise, but also because of the rival. But little by little we found them.”
Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez acknowledged that his team wore down in the extra period.
“We were always looking to attack,” he said. “We need time to become stronger. It’s not just 90 minutes, but 120 minutes.”
Mexico and the US have won nine of the 10 Gold Cups contested since the biennial tournament took its current form in 1991. The US beat El Tri 2-1 in 2007 and Mexico won 5-0 in the 2009 final.