Overcoming Distractions, Mexico Wins Gold Cup Final


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Mexico’s Andrés Guardado (18 in black) after his first-half goal during the team’s Gold Cup final victory over Jamaica on Sunday in Philadelphia.

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Don Emmert/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — The troubled Gold Cup came to a celebratory end for Mexico on Sunday night with a 3-1 victory against Jamaica as the regional tournament sought to shift its focus from scandal to soccer.

Midfielder Andrés Guardado scored on a superb volley in the 30th minute, and then forward Jesús Corona stole the ball and put it through the legs of a Jamaican defender from atop the penalty area in the 46th minute. Forward Oribe Peralta pounced on a defensive mistake in the 60th minute, putting Mexico up by 3-0 before Jamaica finally avoided a shutout in the 78th minute on a goal by Darren Mattocks.

Mexico’s victory secured its seventh title at the Gold Cup, the signature tournament of the North American, Central American and Caribbean region, and it buoyed a team that had often played unimpressively, needing the favor of questionable refereeing decisions to reach the final.

Mexico’s victory had extra relish as it came on the turf of its chief rival, the United States, which finished a dismal fourth.

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Guardado (18) sent a shot past Jamaica goalkeeper Ryan Thompson in the first half. Mexico won its seventh Gold Cup title.

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Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The victory will also bring a surge of national pride to a soccer-consumed country that has made the news most recently for the embarrassing prison escape of the drug lord known as El Chapo and for harsh comments on immigration made by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.

Sunday’s outcome set up a playoff between Mexico and the United States, the 2013 Gold Cup champion, on Oct. 9 for the right to represent Concacaf at the 2017 Confederations Cup, a tuneup for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The playoff will be held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., where the crowd would be largely in support of Mexico. The United States can still feel like a visiting team in its own country and would prefer to play in, say, Columbus, Ohio, where it has hosted World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico.

The Gold Cup final drew an enthusiastic flag-waving crowd, announced at 68,930, to Lincoln Financial Field, contrasting with the troubling aspects of the tournament: acknowledged refereeing mistakes; a charge by Panama of match-fixing; unruly fans, mostly supporting Mexico, who tossed objects onto the field during some matches; and threatening gestures by Panamanian players, who charged the American referee Mark Geiger and pushed an assistant referee after a controversial loss to Mexico in the semifinals.

“There was a sense of kind of being uncertain of what happens next,” Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the United States team, said of the refereeing. “That kind of overshadowed everything that really went on.”

Concacaf, the regional governing body, is widely perceived as the most troubled of FIFA’s six regional confederations.

Two of its former presidents — Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands — have been charged with bribery by the Justice Department, which is investigating FIFA’s global racketeering scandal. Chuck Blazer, an American and former general secretary of Concacaf, has pleaded guilty.

And Concacaf did little to rehabilitate its image during the Gold Cup.

Its leaders were silent for too long about chaos on the field and in the stands. And Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation, was unwilling during the tournament to tell Congress or reporters how much he knew or did not know about suspected regional corruption in FIFA’s scandal.

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Security guards at the Gold Cup seemed at times willing to tolerate anything but free speech. At Saturday’s third-place match, won by Panama over the United States in a penalty shootout, guards confiscated a sign held by Panamanian fans that said, “Concacash.”

The enduring image of this messy tournament is sure to be a banner held up by Panamanian players that called Concacaf officials thieves and corrupt — an audacious repudiation of regional integrity.

After a disappointing finish by the United States, Gulati was willing to discuss Klinsmann’s job security, which seems safe, given his mandate to improve American soccer and his salary, at least $2.5 million a year, through the 2018 World Cup.

Noting that Klinsmann did not receive a contract extension for recent exhibition victories against two European powers, Germany and the Netherlands, Gulati said that Klinsmann also would not be fired after a faltering tournament.

“We don’t make judgments based on one thing,” Gulati told reporters Saturday. “Progress is not linear for anyone. There’s bumps along the way. This is clearly a bump.”

Klinsmann has taken a pragmatic approach, saying repeatedly that he wanted to win the Gold Cup but that his main priority was developing a team for the 2018 World Cup. He said he was “totally fine” with criticism.

He added, “It just shows and proves the growth of the game in the United States. It’s only going to get bigger and bigger.”

Anyway, second-guessing of his Gold Cup lineups was extremely mild compared with the scrutiny Klinsmann received as coach of his native Germany when it hosted the 2006 World Cup. When Die Mannschaft struggled as that tournament approached, some German politicians wanted to censure Klinsmann, and Chancellor Angela Merkel felt it necessary to give him a vote of confidence.

President Obama is not likely to feel a need to reassure the United States after the Gold Cup.

“I think you cannot compare it with Europe,” Klinsmann said of the criticism. “You walk out of your door in Europe and you get it in your face.”



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