THE second CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final pits pre-tournament favourites Mexico against 2013 finalists Panama. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the best bets available.
Panama v Mexico | Thursday 02.00 | BT Sport 1
Panama and Mexico meet in the second CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final in the early hours of Thursday from Atlanta and it promises to be a really intriguing encounter between two nations that have struggled to find their feet this month.
There are a few fascinating subplots too; Panama upset the odds to beat Mexico 2-1 at this stage in 2013 – only their second win in 13 attempts against El Tri – and the word revenge is being uttered manically in the Mexican press.
Anything short of gold at the Gold Cup would be considered a disaster south of the US border and under-fire Mexico boss Miguel Herrera was left unhappy after his team were forced to share a flight to Atlanta with their semi-final opponents after long delays in New Jersey. And according to local reports, a players-only meeting was set-up to complain about El Tri’s head coach and his tactics.
Players and management have denied the story but even all the way over here in Blighty we can see there are issues. On the field the six-time champions destroyed Cuba 6-0, as expected, but a 0-0 with Guatemala and disturbing 4-4 draw with Trinidad & Tobago raised alarm bells. But it’s their quarter-final success that left CONCACAF fans with a sour taste.
El Tri were gifted a route to the final four thanks to a dubious penalty decision in the 124th minute of extra-time against Costa Rica. Andres Guardado slotted it home and the rest, as they say, is history. Yes, the call was harsh but it’s worth pointing out that the Mexicans missed a catalogue of chances and they dominated proceedings; they were the only likely winners bar a penalty shootout.
Still, Oribe Peralta’s been criticised for his poor finishing, Giovani Dos Santos is struggling to be fit whilst Carlos Vela’s yet to get going. Already without Javier Hernandez and Hector Moreno, Herrera’s change in tact from 5-3-2 to 4-4-2 to combat the absentees has left the side lacking identity, ideas, shape and structure. Defensively they were at sea when faced with Joel Campbell’s pace and tenacity whilst the forwards were off-target.
Thankfully, for Herrera’s sake, the proposition of Panama is a differently kettle of fish to that of Costa Rica. Where the Ticos boasted speed and agility, Panama call upon experience, craft, team-work and know-how. Hernan Dario Gomez’s men have drawn all four Gold Cup fixtures 1-1 but have faced totally different styles along the way.
Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo was Los Canaleros’ hero in the last eight as his penalty saves saw Panama overcome Trinidad on spot kicks. The 2013 runners-up were the better side in possession but did struggle to contain Kenwyne Jones’ physicality so they’ll be pleased to see no Mexican in the same frame lining up against them on Wednesday night.
Across those previous four games, Panama have failed to make their opportunities count and been caught out late in games. You get the feeling, they’re well capable of springing a surprise but their mentality has to be questioned – they continue to throwaway leads – as well as fatigue. They’re an old side but are they streetwise enough to negotiate Mexico at the same stage again?
At 5/1 (Bet365) Los Canaleros shouldn’t be ruled out. Mexico have managed just two wins in 13 – against Cuba and Guatamala – but I prefer a play on Both Teams To Score at 6/4 with Coral. It’s banked in six of Panama’s last seven and four of Mexico’s most recent eight. Following on that theme, five of Panama’s previous six outings have ended in the 1-1 correct score and a repeat can be snapped up at 7/1 with Coral too.
Panama v Mexico – Both Teams To Score (6/4 Coral)