The CONCACAF Gold Cup Final between defending champions Mexico and host USA is a dream final. It’s the final everyone anticipated from the start of the tournament and wanted to see and after a dramatic semi-final round, in which both sides were sorely tested and in the reigning champions’ case, pushed almost to the limit, the anticipation reaches a fever pitch.
USA faced Panama in the semis, looking for redemption for a 2-1 defeat to Panama in the group stage, its only defeat in the competition thus far. As the previous encounter, so the semi-final: Panama played a tight game, giving the USA very little to work with, if anything at all. In fact, for most of the match Panama seemed to outplay the USA, controlling the ball and playing some great soccer. And during some of these best stretches by the Central Americans, the goal came – on two substitutions, Freddy Adu and Landon Donovan, who, curiously, started his second match of the tournament sitting pretty on the bench. Clint Dempsey was the hero for the USA, lunging at the back post to slot a Donovan cross into the net, late in the second half.
Mexico came up against an industrious Honduras that seemed up for the challenge it is to take on the most successful team in the competition as they forced extra time following a goalless 90 minutes of regular time. But extra time was barely three minutes old and Honduras cracked, unable to withstand the constant attacking pressure of the El Tri as first Aldo De Nigris and then, six minutes later, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez scored to send Mexico to the Gold Cup final with a 2-0 win.
USA and Mexico have collided in the last two finals of the biennial Gold Cup tournament, splitting the result: USA winning four years ago and Mexico crushing the USA en route to a 5-0 coronation in 2009. Therefore, it is no wonder that going into the tournament, Mexico were the hot favorites to win while USA was a close second favorite.
USA will win because....
Panama exposed several weaknesses that still exist in this USA team – arguably, its best export into the world’s beautiful game – by handing them a 2-1 defeat in group action but the composure that the Americans showed in the rematch with Panama was singularly responsible for victory. Admittedly, they weren’t the better side on the pitch that day but they kept it together and pounced on the lone opportunity when it came. Sure, there was a touch of luck in that result but the bottom line is that the USA is in the final and they have home advantage.
Mexico will win because...
Mexico is to the CONCACAF Gold Cup what Barcelona is to Champions League, a force to be reckoned with, just in a smaller playground and with, admittedly, lesser players. Nevertheless, Mexico is the team to beat and when players like “Chicarito,” amongst several others, are on hot form they are impossible to deny. On home advantage to the USA, it is a moot point. El Tri will not be short of fans in the stands given the large Mexican population in America and therefore home-advantage, you could say, is cancelled out.
It is worthwhile to note that the winner of Saturday's final clinches a berth in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013, a 2014 FIFA World Cup preview event. USA earned a berth in the last Confederations Cup in South Africa, wherein they surprised the entire world by beating Spain in the semis before losing to Brazil in the final.
Such long overdue international success provides the sort of incentive for the USA that together with home advantage could see them win the final on Saturday. It is a result that would please American soccer fans no end and would go towards further establishing USA as a respectable team and viable threat in the game. But Mexico looms large and dangerous, having more depth and skill than the Americans have and therefore, it is hard to see how they can be denied a sixth Gold Cup coronation.