Jamaica’s “Reggae Boyz” have already made history as they enter Sunday’s Gold Cup final against an underperforming Mexico side with much to explain even if it takes the trophy.
The Jamaicans became the first Caribbean team to reach the championship match of the biennial North American regional football tournament by stunning the United States 2-1 in the semi-finals.
“We’ve just put one of the big boys out, so it just shows that we can hang with the best right now,” Jamaican striker Giles Barnes said. “That’s our confidence builder going into the final.
“We don’t fear anybody.”
Mexico controversially won against Panama in the semi-finals
Mexico, meanwhile, has needed controversial foul calls to set up late penalty kick goals to barely escape Costa Rica in the quarter-finals and Panama in the semi-finals, with both extra-time losers having asked organizers for a formal investigation into “officiating irregularities.”
“It disgraces the tournament,” Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez said. “The final loses beauty and spectacle.”
Costa Rican officials went so far as to ask that the entire referees technical committee be removed and South American referees be used when the penultimate round of Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) begins in November.
“The referee was very bad,” Mexican coach Miguel Herrera said. “But this happens. Sometimes there is controversy. It’s not our doing.”
Nevertheless, El Tricolores will be favored to beat Jamaica and stretch their record trophy total to seven as well as take a third crown in the past four Cups contested.
“Mexico is one of the best teams in our region. They play fantastic football,” Schaefer said. “We have played well. We have shown we can score. We play well as a team. We do this for the country and for each other.”
Mexico escaped the quarter-final 1-0 after captain Andres Guardado converted a penalty beyond the 120th minute on a foul called for what appeared to be a Mexican player hurling himself to the pitch.
After playing a man down for 64 minutes, Panama led Mexico 1-0 in the semi-final only to see a penalty shot awarded Mexico in the 89th minute, one the sparked a melee as players and coaches on both sides nearly came to blows. A penalty kick, off a foul all agreed was legitimate, came just beyond the 105th minute to send Mexico onward again.
With several CONCACAF officials among those facing US charges for bribery in a federal probe into FIFA, the sanctioning body’s credibility had already taken a blow even before the latest sense by some that Mexico, and its huge set of supporters and viewers, were going to reach the final no matter what.
. Jamaica after their maiden Gold Cup
The Jamaicans’ best prior Gold Cup showing was a share of third in 1993, but taking only their second victory in 23 matches against the Americans made history for all Caribbean sides.
“Our team brought tremendous spirit,” said Jamaican coach Winfried Schaefer. “I hope we can bring the same in Philadelphia.”
Schaefer warned that it was too soon to celebrate after the US upset and the “Reggae Boyz” were happy to wait.
“It will be even sweeter,” Barnes said, “when we lift the Cup on Sunday.”