Mexico spent much of this CONCACAF Gold Cup operating in the fine margin between success and failure. There were twists and turns throughout this controversial run to a seventh title. All of those issues stemmed from the fact that El Tri never quite reached the expected heights in this tournament. They somehow scraped through nevertheless to give themselves a chance at redemption.
El Tri perhaps provided a fitting ending to this unpredictable Gold Cup by grasping it firmly with both hands. This edition of the tournament produced only a few memorable games, but it stoked debate throughout. Mexico somehow concluded it by confirming one of the two anticipated outcomes entering the tournament with a thoroughly deserved 3-1 victory over Jamaica on Sunday.
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This performance reflected the Mexico everyone expected to see emerge at some point during this month. They displayed the incisive and sharp work in possession necessary to break down the impeccably drilled Jamaicans. They summoned the ruthlessness required to take advantage of the chances created or presented to ensure their best performance in this tournament yielded a record seventh Gold Cup title.
"Well, it means a lot for the effort of all of the players," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said through a translator. "It's a great satisfaction for all of us, given the determination they had and the efforts that they made. Today, we got the bad game against Panama out of our heads. We played very well."
In some ways, this final contradicted every game preceding it. Jamaica entered this showpiece as the tournament's sterling team with its blend of defensive structure and sharp work on the counter. The cohesive shape remained in place for this game, but the Reggae Boyz eventually succumbed after conceding once on a set piece and twice through individual errors. They avoided those missteps for most of this tournament before tumbling at this last hurdle.
It proved an unfortunate way for a deserving team to fall short in the end, but it did not diminish the magnitude of the work carried out from the start of the Copa AmÃ©rica through this defeat.
"For me, this is not silver, this is gold," Jamaica coach Winfried SchÃ¤fer said as he gestured to the silver medal on his chest. "Nobody, nobody gave us a shot. This team played all of its matches above its level. It made it to the final without penalties, without free kicks. It was very, very hard work. Congratulations [to our players]. I'm proud to be the coach of this team."
Pride flickered in and out for many of the teams in this tournament. The expected favorites all faltered at one point or another with Mexico hounded by its second-place finish in Group C, Costa Rica ousted in the quarterfinals and the United States upset in the semis. Canada hosted their first Gold Cup game in this tournament, yet the rebuilding side failed to register a goal or secure a quarterfinal berth. Central America exited without a single victory in this competition for the first time. Only the Caribbean emerged with universal credit after four island nations -- including defeated quarterfinalists Cuba, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago -- reached the knockout stage.
Once the tournament reached that decisive point, chaos largely erupted. Controversy reigned after suspect decisions prodded Mexico through to the final. The late penalty decision against Costa Rica emerged from very little at all, while the ugly semifinal with Panama included a peculiar red card and an unbelievable penalty award to coax the match into extra-time.
Those verdicts inspired questions about the propriety of the proceedings and sparked a furious reaction from a public mindful of the corruption scandal that resulted in the indictment of a handful of key CONCACAF officials before the tournament. As an added rebuke, the scenes inside the Georgia Dome -- including the beverages thrown from the stands, the scuffles undertaken on the field and the unfortunate sprints toward the refereeing crew at the final whistle -- marred the tournament irrevocably.
In this context, Mexico perhaps made the most sense as the winner of this flawed tournament. This messy affair did not deserve the neat bow applied by a storybook ending for Jamaica. It warranted something grittier, something more realistic to cap this month.
El Tri supplied it by grinding through matches and meandering through the gray area between triumph and disappointment better than any team in this Gold Cup. They finally landed on the proper side of the line on a gleaming night in Philadelphia with a performance worthy of winning a final. It did not satisfy some neutrals given the preceding events, but it proved entirely appropriate nevertheless.