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No team was perfect in the group phase of the Gold Cup. In the end, Mexico finished with fewer points than the victors of the three other groups, Panama, Guatemala, and the USMNT. But they still played some excellent soccer in the first part of the tournament.
It is worth recalling that Mexico went into the competition in low spirits. They were eliminated in the group phase of World Cup 2022 in Qatar, then lost to the USA in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Nations League.
That latter result led to the sacking of Diego Cocca. There was no time to install a permanent replacement before the Gold Cup, so Jimmy Lozano was handed the reins on a part-time basis. So far, he has done an excellent job.
Mexico produced the standout performance on matchday one of the tournament, as they thrashed Honduras 4-0 in Houston. A few days later El Tri beat Haiti 3-1 to qualify for the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
Their final group match ended in a 1-0 defeat by Qatar. In truth, Mexico were unfortunate to lose; this was a smash-and-grab of the highest order. Qatar had one shot to their opponents’ 25, yet somehow picked up all three points to reach the last eight against the odds.
Mexico are now the favorites to win the Gold Cup with the best online sportsbooks. That is in part because of how they have played so far, but also due to the fact that the USMNT and Canada - the next two favorites - will face off in the quarter-finals.
The fact they will avoid the winner of that tie in a hypothetical semi-final is another boost, but Mexico must not look too far ahead. Costa Rica’s chances of a surprise win should certainly not be dismissed out of hand.
Los Ticos have gone a little under the radar at the Gold Cup up to now. Usually the third force in the CONCACAF region, Costa Rica have fallen behind Canada in the pecking order of late. But they still took part in World Cup 2022 and are now through to the knockout phase of the Gold Cup for the 13th edition of the tournament on the bounce.
A 2-1 defeat by Panama on matchday one represented a poor start for Luis Fernando Suarez’s side. But they recovered well from that setback. A 0-0 draw with El Salvador was a decent if not brilliant result, but it at least kept Costa Rica alive.
Then, in the third round of fixtures in the group phase, they beat Martinique 6-4 in a 10-goal thriller at the Red Bull Arena. That, together with El Salvador’s failure to get the better of Panama, saw them through to the knockout rounds.
We have not seen the best of Costa Rica so far. Even when they turned on the style in attack against Martinique, it is mildly alarming that they shipped four goals to the weakest team in the group.
Several members of the country’s aging golden generation were not called up for this tournament, including Keylor Navas, Oscar Duarte, Bryan Oviedo, and Bryan Ruiz.
Their group contains plenty of youth as Costa Rica look to the future, and this clash with Mexico will be a test of this team’s credentials. However, the Ticos have not beaten their upcoming opponents since October 2013, so there is no doubt they are the underdogs this weekend.
Costa Rica will hope that their forward players can build on their Martinique blitz with another productive performance here.
Of course, there is very little chance of the Ticos finding the back of the net six times on this occasion, but they have enough in attacking areas to give Mexico something to think about. Joel Campbell is the household name up front, but keep an eye out for Anthony Contreras and the 18-year-old Josimar Alcocer too.
Mexico will fancy their chances of outscoring Costa Rica regardless, and we do fancy them to go through. But the odds on a win for Lozano’s men are not particularly attractive, which is why both teams to score is our recommended wager for this match at the AT&T Stadium.
Mexico have played some free-flowing soccer at the tournament to date and they will have the bulk of the ball against Costa Rica. They will need to continue combining possession with penetration, a notable weakness under Lozano’s predecessor-but-one Tata Martino.
But a clean sheet could be beyond El Tri in this one. Goals at both ends is a distinct possibility in the second quarter-final of the Gold Cup.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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