THE CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-finals conclude with pre-tournament favourites Mexico’s match-up against 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists Costa Rica. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) highlights the value.
Mexico v Costa Rica | Monday 00.30 | BT Sport 2
On paper, this quarter-final clash is by far the biggest, by far the best and by far the most obvious neutrals choice based upon Mexico and Costa Rica’s performances at last year’s World Cup. But plenty has changed in 12 months and although the meeting offers enough intrigue to keep us hooked, the New Jersey encounter isn’t quite what we’d probably have hoped for.
You see, both nations and head coaches arrive feeling the heat, pressure and strain of expectation. Promising performances in 2014 have not been built on and the two teams lock horns having failed to fire or impress during the CONCACAF Gold Cup group-stages. The suggestion is, the losing coach in this head-to-head battle will be out of employment.
Despite being gifted the most cushy group and route to the Gold Cup final, Mexico still managed to miss out on top spot in a weak Group C. Having destroyed Cuba 6-0 in their opener, El Tri then failed to make their dominance count in a 0-0 against Guatemala before escaping with a point in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Trinidad & Tobago.
But the signs have been there for a while. Head coach Miguel Herrera was Mexico’s saviour last year but now he’s feeling the heat having guided the six-times champions and continental powerhouses to a return of just W2-D7-L3 across their most recent 12 outings. In Mexico, results count and remember Herrera took a second string to the Copa America with the Gold Cup his main and only focus.
A switch from 5-3-2 to play four at the back in a 4-4-2 clearly didn’t work against Trinidad and it’s true the loss of influential centre-half Hector Moreno has hit the team hard. There’s a real degree of fragility amongst the El Tri defence but even so, conceding four goals against the Soca Warriors was unacceptable. Kenwyne Jones’ physicality wreaked havoc in the Mexico backline and you sense Costa Rica will have taken note.
As I suggested pre-tournament, the Ticos aren’t the same side that took the World Cup by storm last year. Paolo Wanchope is now in charge and although expectations and hopes remain sky-high back home, Costa Rica are a little less compact defensively with more emphasis on getting forward. But the new philosophy is clearly suffering a few teething problems.
Wanchope’s charges managed just three goals in a tricky Group B and were held to stalemates by Jamaica, Canada and El Salvador to creep into the last eight. The Ticos are winless since October 2014 (W0-D5-L3) and confidence levels are dropping.
So can Costa Rica rally themselves for one last hurrah and give Wanchope a reprieve? Will Mexico find the balance they’ve been lacking to save Herrera’s skin? It may well take extra-time to separate these two teams, after all they’ve been held to draws in 11 of their combined last 16 showings and so Coral’s 11/4 is bound to appeal.
I may be wrong but I just feel Mexico are a class apart. Oribe Peralta’s again shown what a great finisher he is and if El Tri can firm up that defensive rearguard, they should have more than enough to see off the Ticos. Betfair are offering 17/20 on the Mexico win and I have to admit, I expected to see Herrera’s troops a little shorter.
Clearly bookmakers have lost confidence in El Tri but I’m happy to give them a go at those quotes. They’ve beaten Costa Rica in 27 of their 49 meetings, losing just six and if it does come down to a straight shootout, I know which side of the fence I’d prefer to be on.
Mexico v Costa Rica – Mexico to win (17/20 Betfair)
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