Rolling Jamaica, reeling Mexico meet in Gold Cup final
PHILADELPHIA: Mexico is the favourite to win its record-extending seventh CONCACAF Gold Cup title, and coach Miguel Herrera is answering questions about his future with the team.
Jamaica is not only making its first appearance in a Gold Cup final but the first for any Caribbean nation, and its coach, Winfried Schaefer, is having to insist that his squad really is the underdog after it stunned the United States in the semifinals.
That's how different the two countries' runs were to Sunday's match at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Herrera spoke Saturday a few hours after CONCACAF acknowledged the referee had made errors in Mexico's semifinal win over Panama, a game El Tri was about to lose before a disputed hand ball led to a tying penalty kick in second-half stoppage time.
"We played a good game against Costa Rica and the next game we did badly," Herrera said. "But we qualified to the final game. I talked a lot with the boys, and we all realized that we play badly. We have to correct our mistakes."
Indeed, Mexico did outplay Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, though that game was moments from going to a shootout until El Tri benefited from another questionable call in the last minute of extra time.
Could it happen again in the final? Schaefer dismissed such talk, incensed that Panama has implied the referees were crooked.
"I trust our referees," he said.
The only way Mexico has been able to score during the knockout rounds is on penalty kicks.
"It seems that everything is bad," Herrera said. "Nothing is just good or bad. You are not so bad when you lose and so good when you win."
Not that such logic has ever kept a coach from losing his job. Adding to Mexico's problems: Carlos Vela is suspended because of yellow card accumulation, and both dos Santos brothers — Jonathan and Giovani — and Andres Guardado are battling injuries.
Don't try to suggest that El Tri might be short-handed to Schaefer, Jamaica's German coach.
"There are maybe 1,000 very, very good players in Mexico," he scoffed.
In fact, Mexico is the fifth best team in the world, he insisted, preferring to focus on El Tri's strong performance at last year's World Cup. The matchup is the equivalent of Germany against Luxembourg, added Schaefer, who likes to remind everyone that Jamaica is a "small island."
No doubt he would love for El Tri to sag under the pressure of expectation Sunday. As Schaefer summarized the mentality his opponent faces back home: "Mexico cannot lose against us."
One moment, the bespectacled coach with the wild white hair was talking up the greatness of the other team. The next, he was explaining why Jamaica will be going after the victory against Mexico on Sunday. The winner will face the U.S., the 2013 Gold Cup champ, in a playoff Oct. 9 for CONCACAF's spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup.
"It is not my style — I don't not want to lose; I want to win," Schaefer said.
He texted his players that they could win the Gold Cup after a Jamaica squad took part in Copa America earlier this summer. The Reggae Boyz lost all three of their games, but they were all by 1-0 scores against Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
"Our small island was better than Uruguay," Schaefer said Saturday.
And he hopes its performance in this tournament will make it better and better in the future. Schaefer said he sent a video of Wednesday's postgame celebration to three players in England who are considering suiting up for Jamaica. A big part of his team's success is players born and raised in England and developed by clubs there who are eligible to play for Jamaica because of family connections.
Back on that small island of about 2.9 million people, beating the world's best in sports is nothing new — it's just usually in track and field.
"I hope the kids now have new idols," Schaefer said.
Not just Usain Bolt.
After seeing Jamaica score both its goals against the U.S. on set pieces, Mexico defender Diego Reyes is well aware of the problems its size and speed can create.
"We have to be very careful on all of them," he said.
Or Jamaica will shock another CONCACAF power.
"Nobody deserves it more than my team," Schaefer said.