CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Mexico 4:2 USA
Bradley 8', Donovan 23'
Barrera 29' & 50', Guardado 36', Dos Santos 76'
Mexico overturned a two-goal deficit to retain their status as champions of North & Central America following an action-packed win over the United States in Pasadena.
In front of a largely pro-Mexican crowd of 93,420 which left the Rose Bowl feeling more like the Azteca, the USA stormed into a 2-0 advantage after Michael Bradley headed Freddy Adu's corner in after eight minutes and Landon Donovan coolly slotted home Clint Dempsey's deft through-ball a quarter of an hour later. Donovan celebrated by mimicking a chicken, a mocking reference to the contaminated fowl Mexico had blamed for returning five positive drug tests shortly before the tournament.
Unlike in 2009 when the more lucrative pull of the FIFA Confederations Cup saw the US field a B-team in the Gold Cup, Bob Bradley picked a strong starting eleven with Donovan the sole MLS representative.
But a crucial injury early on to experienced full-back Steve Cherundolo left Jonathan Bornstein, who plays his football for Tigres in Mexico, and Aston Villa's Eric Lichaj, who spent last season on loan at Leeds, holding the backline together. Their inexperience proved costly as the US left several gaps which were exploited by raiding Mexicans. Tactically, the Americans proved their own worst enemy by gambling on maintaining an open game when two goals to the good.
Bornstein was caught out of position when Pablo Barrera pulled one back just short of the half-hour, the West Ham man finding the time and space to fire past Tim Howard from Israel Castro's defence-splitting lance.
With 36 minutes gone the American cushion had evaporated.
Giovani Dos Santos was again a tormentor supreme, running onto Castro's chip before teasing Bornstein and whipping in a cross which Lichaj could only knock into the path of Andres Guardado for an easy tap-in.
So dangerous was Dos Santos in a Mexican shirt, that once more it raised the question of why he cannot find a place in Tottenham Hotspur's first-team squad.
The former Barcelona starlet has been on the North London club's books since 2008 but has only made ten appearances, spending more time on loan at Ipswich, Galatasaray and last season, at Racing Santander in Spain.
Barrera netted his second and Mexico's third five minutes after the break with the goal of the game. Having peeled away from Carlos Bocanegra on the edge of the box, he met Guardado's diagonal assist first-time with a classy hit from the outside of his boot which left Howard clutching air.
Now the US had to play catch-up. Bocanegra crashed the box at a set-piece as he does so well but guided his header inches wide of the upright. And when Dempsey curled a shot against the crossbar with goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera rooted to the spot just short of the hour it looked like it was not going to be the US' day.
The ebullient Dos Santos clinched the cup fourteen minutes from time as he ran onto Gerardo Torrado's incisive ball and smuggled it from Howard's despairing lunges. He then led a host of white shirts on a merry-dance through the box before lobbing the lot of them with a spectacular finish worthy of a tournament-decider.
Chicharito failed to get on the day's scoresheet but ended up player of the tournament (MVP) and top scorer with seven goals.
The defeat was doubly sour for the US as it means there will be no repeat of their 2009 Confederations Cup heroics when they beat Spain and led Brazil 2-0 in the final before succumbing 3-2.
Instead, Mexico join hosts Brazil, Spain and Japan as qualifiers in the eight-team tournament in June 2013. The winners of the 2011 Copa America, Euro 2012, the 2012 OFC Nations Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations will complete the line-up.
The Gold Cup remains somewhat of an oddity for several reasons: It is biennial instead of every four years, has had guest teams almost win it before and its only two strong sides invariably make it to the final, unless a superior tournament robs them of their first-teamers.
When as this year it hands the winners passage to the next Confederations Cup however, it is taken seriously. It is always held in one country (the USA) but as on Sunday, the volume of Latino expat support can leave the host nation feeling like it is playing tough away games.
Tim Howard was less than impressed by the Spanish-language trophy presentation:
"CONCACAF should be ashamed of themselves," he fumed. "I think it's a f*****g disgrace...You can bet your ass if we were in Mexico City, it wouldn't be all in English."
For a region turned upside-down this month through internecine conflict ending in the resignation of its notorious boss Jack Warner, there was at least an exciting game of football to remind everyone what it should all be about.
USA: Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Eric Lichaj, Steve Cherundolo (Jonathan Bornstein 11'), Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya (Juan Agudelo 63'), Landon Donovan, Freddy Adu (Sacha Kljestan 86').
Mexico: Alfredo Talavera, Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido (Torres 28'), Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado, Gerado Torrado, Israel Castro, Pablo Barrera, Efrain Juarez, Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez.
Shots on target: USA 4, Mexico 8
Possession: USA 46%, Mexico 54%
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
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