IT’S the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup late on Sunday night. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) talks us through the contest between Jamaica and Mexico from Philadelphia and shares his best bets.
Jamaica v Mexico | Monday 00.30 | BT Sport 2
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. We weren’t supposed to be meeting here, in Philadelphia, on a sweaty Sunday night in July.
That might sound like the beginning of another Toni Braxton heart-breaking love song (believe me, it’s not and I’ve even checked) but when Jamaica lock horns with Mexico this weekend in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, they’re questions, statement and observations both nations will probably be asking themselves…
From the very beginning the Gold Cup had been organised in such a way as to give continental powerhouses USA and Mexico the easiest run to the final so the two giants could clash for the third time in four editions of the tournament for the right to be crowned kings of CONCACAF. Enter Jamaica.
The Reggae Boyz became the first Caribbean nation in 13 runnings of the competition to reach the final having dumped out hosts and defending champions USA in one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history. With it, they kept our 66/1 shot at outright glory alive but have already delivered us guaranteed profit having suggested an each-way punt on Wilfriend Schafer’s side.
Schafer described that semi-final success as a ‘David against Goliath’ task but the Jamaicans were full value for their victory – their first win over the US on American soil and marked the Stars & Stripes’ first home loss to a Caribbean foe since 1968. Unsurprisingly, the full-time whistle sparked wild celebrations but the German boss has insisted the team are focussed on the final with ‘the Bob Marley and partying’ on hold.
The Jamaican side has benefitted from playing together in competitive action for two months now and the unity and team spirit is clear to see. Their Copa America excursions in June gave the group confidence, cohesion and belief that they could mix it with their major continental rivals and the game plan that Schafer has installed has worked a treat.
The Reggae Boyz have been organised, physical and clinical when it mattered most. The defensive lines are tight, set-piece delivery pivotal and their speed and aggressive nature on the counter-attack has continued to cause opposition defences problems. They’ve been the most consistent team in the tournament and although the Americans had more ball possession and chances in front of goal, Jamaica exercised their plan perfectly and now they want more.
Standing in their way is six-time champions Mexico. If Jamaica arrive in buoyant mood, El Tri are at the opposite end of the scale. A controversial penalty decision in the 10th minute of stoppage-time for an alleged handball took Mexico’s semi-final match with Panama to extra-time before Miguel Herrera’s men were given a second spot-kick in extra-time to earn a 2-1 win.
It was a disgraceful decision and ugly scenes ensured. Even Argentina football legend Diego Maradona aired his fury over the controversial calls, demanding CONCACAF to replay the final four contest. Herrera himself conceded his team had ‘got lucky’ and the first decision wasn’t a penalty and it now means El Tri’s past four goals in the competition have come from three penalties and one own goal. Hardly flattering form, eh?
The Mexican head coach admitted he’s worried about his team’s lacklustre performances and their inability to create dangerous opportunities. Forwards Carlos Vela and Oribe Peralta were practically invisible against Panama and with Vela now suspended for the final and Giovani dos Santos unlikely to be fit, El Tri are short on goal-getting ability.
It might be Mexico’s fourth Gold Cup final in five tournaments but there’s a real feeling that the current crop have ambled their way through the competition and are there for the taking. Certainly their weaknesses should play into Jamaica’s hands in Philadelphia – El Tri rarely threatened in 65 minutes against Panama’s 10 men and looked far from convincing when defending dead-ball situations too.
With the Reggae Boyz likely to remain disciplined with their two tight lines behind the ball, expect Schafer’s side to spring forward whenever possession is recouped with pace and power. Again, set-pieces will be one of Jamaica’s main weapons and should they nullify the blunt Mexican forward line, a first major trophy will be well within grasp. Make no mistake, Jamaica are serious contenders.
The betting has made Mexico 10/11 (William Hill) favourites to win in 90 minutes, an unthinkable price on El Tri against Jamaica pre-tournament. But that’s a fair reflection on where the two nations are right now. Schafer’s underdogs have been well punted but there’s still room for a final fling on the Reggae Boyz (William Hill) even if the 4/1 to win in regulation time doesn’t appeal to all.
Me? I couldn’t put you off taking a seductive stab at the 42/41 from BetVictor on Jamaica +0.50 in the Asian Handicap market – it works just like a Double Chance bet and will see you paid out if the Boyz avoid defeat in 90 minutes. But I’m also going to be bold and brash and play a couple of correct scores.
Jamaica to win 1-0 (10/1 Paddy Power) is in – three of their last four wins have come by the same scoreline. Mexico to win 1-0 (9/2 Paddy Power) – yep, we’ll get involved again as five of Jamaica’s last seven losses have come by the same result. And we’ll throw in the 0-0 at 6/1 with Coral – four of Mexico’s previous 10 have ended goalless; we’re in the final now, the stakes are higher so there should be more chance for a stalemate.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Jamaica only leaked once in both World Cup 2014 qualifiers, even keeping a clean sheet at the fortress Estadio Azteca. They’ll show no fear on Sunday night and fingers crossed maybe, just maybe, they’ll nick a 1-0 lead, break the US-Mexican Gold Cup duopoly and deliver us a cracking payday. C’mon the Boyz!
Jamaica v Mexico – Jamaica +0.50 Asian Handicap (42/41 BetVictor)
Jamaica v Mexico – Jamaica to win 1-0 (10/1 Paddy Power)
Jamaica v Mexico – Mexico to win 1-0 (9/2 Paddy Power)
Jamaica v Mexico – 0-0 draw (6/1 Coral)
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