Guatemala pulled off the biggest shock so far of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Sunday night, holding Mexico to a scoreless draw despite playing with 10 men for the final 14 minutes in front of a pro-Mexican crowd of 62,910 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Guatemala – which lost 3-1 to Trinidad and Tobago in their Gold Cup opener last Thursday – put in a dogged effort, using a five-man backline to keep a clean sheet against the talented El Tri attack. The result was maddening for Mexico, who couldn’t find the back of the net despite holding an 80.4-19.6 possession edge, outshooting Los Chapines 19-3 and playing with a man advantage for the final quarter hour after Guatemala midfielder Jose Contreras was shown a second yellow card in the 76th.
The draw gave a major boost to Guatemala’s hopes for advancing to the knockout round, putting the Central American nation in third in Group C with one point. A win in their group stage finale against last-place Cuba on Wednesday would give Guatemala a very good chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Heavy favorites for another easy victory on Sunday after their 6-0 thrashing of Cuba on Thursday, Mexico will now have to wait until Wednesday to book their spot in the quarterfinals. They’ll take on Trinidad and Tobago in Charlotte, N.C., needing to beat the 2-0-0 Soca Warriors to finish in first in Group C and a draw to ensure their passage to the knockout rounds.
FC Dallas’ Moises Hernandez and Real Salt Lake’s Elias Vasquez played the full 90 on the backline for Guatemala, while Seattle Sounders midfielder Marco Pappa was surprisingly left out of the starting lineup, not coming on until the 78th minute.
The match was rough and tumble, with Guatemala determined to slow down Mexico’s loaded attack from the opening whistle. Los Chapines committed 24 fouls to Mexico’s 12, and picked up four yellow cards – Mexico had two – in addition to Contreras’ red.
The defensive tactics kept Guatemala competitive, and nearly paid off in the eighth minute when Minor Lopez came close to converting on the counter. Midfielder Brandon de Leon intercepted a poor back pass in Mexico’s half and launched the break, finding Carlos Ruiz just outside the box. The longtime MLS striker hit Lopez in the left side of the area with a wonderful scoop pass, and Lopez came inches away from finding the back of the net, chipping a shot over onrushing ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa and just wide of the right post.
Mexico controlled the rest of the half, completely dominating possession and practically living in the attacking third. El Tri had a few solid opportunities, but Guatemala mostly hung tough, frustrating Mexico and the partisan Arizona crowd with relentless defending.
The referee may have done Los Chapines a favor in the 16th minute, when he denied Mexico’s appeals for a penalty kick after Contreras appeared to prevent Oribe Peralta from getting on the end of a free kick by blocking a cross with his outstretched left arm.
Guatemala goalkeeper Paulo Motta made a huge save to turn away Mexico’s best chance of the first half in the 34th minute. Peralta wriggled free to send a cross in from the right edge of the area, finding midfielder Andres Guardado unmarked at the back post. Guardado fired a shot from the edge of the six-yard box with his first touch, but Motta – who was on the bench for Guatemala’s loss on Thursday – slid over in time to keep the effort out.
It was more of the same in the second half, with Guatemala sitting deep and defending determinedly against wave after wave of Mexican attack. They held their shape admirably, turning away El Tri time and time again, mostly limiting their northern neighbors to a series of half chances.
Peralta had a good chance in the 75th, minutes after Mexico had another PK shout waved off. Guardado floated in a free kick from the right side, finding Hector Herrera at the back post. The Porto midfielder headed across the face of goal to Peralta, who scuffed his first-time effort directly at Motta from the top of the six.
Guatemala was dealt a huge blow in the 76th, when Contreras was ejected after making a late challenge on Mexico’s Paul Aguilar. It was the second yellow card in two minutes for Contreras.
Mexico came agonizingly close to finding the winner in the 87th, when substitute forward Carlos Esquivel rocketed a right-footer past Motta and off the crossbar from 20 yards.
That was the final real chance for El Tri, who will wrap up Group C play in Charlotte on Wednesday against Trinidad and Tobago (8:30 pm ET, FOX Sports 2 and UniMas in the US, Sportsnet World in Canada). Guatemala will also finish up Group C play on Wednesday, taking on Cuba in the first match of a doubleheader at Bank of America Stadium (6 pm ET, FOX Sports 2 and UniMas in the US, Sportsnet World in Canada).