CHICAGO — If Mexico head coach José Manuel de la Torre thinks his team is the favorite to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup, he didn’t say so after El Tri clinched Group A with a resounding 4-1 victory over Costa Rica at Soldier Field on Sunday night.
“I think that you guys are the ones that decide the favorites,” de la Torre said through a translator at his postgame press conference.
He’s wrong. The guys wearing Mexico jerseys on Sunday night were the ones establishing who the favorites are. El Tri were transcendent at Soldier Field, scoring four times in the first 38 minutes before mercifully taking their foot off the gas in the second half.
The performance left the pro-Mexico crowd of 62,000 partying in the stands. And why not? Their team was as close to perfect as it gets, especially in the first half.
Mexico started the match playing beautiful attacking soccer, making all the right runs, playing all the perfect balls and finishing fantastically. Their first chance came in the ninth minute. From then on, it was an all-out barrage.
Rafa Márquez opened the floodgates in the 17th, powerfully heading home a corner kick. Andrés Guardado made it 2-0 two minutes later. When Guardado scored again in the 26th, it was all over. Mexico were too much; everything that happened thereafter, including Pablo Barrera’s 38th minute goal to make it 4-0 and Costa Rica forward Marco Ureña’s second-half consolation strike, wouldn’t matter.
Guardado was particularly spectacular. The dangerous winger, who played primarily on the left, destroyed the Costa Rican back four, knifing in between defenders with frequent dangerous on- and off-the-ball runs.
Both of his goals were well-taken, and his first was truly one to remember. Midfielder Israel Castro lofted a ball from the right side to Guardado at the top left corner of the box. Though he had the time and space to take the ball down and head to goal, Guardado decided to shoot with his first touch, smashing the ball out of the air with the outside of his left foot and curling it around Costa Rican 'keeper Keylor Navas into the top right corner.
The goal was sublime, and it was a perfect characterization of a night when everything went right for El Tri. The performance — combined with the US’ 2-1 loss to Panama on Saturday night — makes them the clear favorites to raise the trophy on June 25 at the Rose Bowl.
It doesn’t matter what de la Torre said — or didn’t say — after the match. Mexico put the rest of the region on notice Sunday night: The path to the Gold Cup goes through El Tri.
Email Sam Stejskal at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.