SAN ANTONIO – Though the crowd of 44,232 that packed into the Alamodome to watch Mexico close out the group stage of the 2017 Gold Cup seemed to have a good time, El Tri can consider themselves lucky to walk away with a 2-0 win over Curacao on Sunday, on what could have been a disastrous night for the favorites.
Curacao finished their debut appearance in the tournament with three 2-0 losses. But the Caribbean champions kept Mexico in the defensive for much of the game, and it wasn't until the 91st minute, when Edson Alvarez’s late goal put the tie out of reach, that El Tri could finally breathe a sign of relief.
“Both Mexico and Curacao looked to play an attacking game, which made it for an entertaining and exciting match,” said Pompilio Paez, the acting caretaker of the Mexican team as Juan Carlos Osorio serves his six-game disciplinary suspension during the Gold Cup. “And while Mexico had difficulties, we were able to put the game away."
It took some stellar goalkeeping from man of the match Jesus Corona, however.
“Tonight we needed someone with experience as we were trying a new back four in our defense,” said Paez, “and our decision to play Corona proved to be the right one.”
He added that the goal of this game was to give other players a chance to impress, especially forwards Martin Barragan and Angel Sepulveda – the latter known for his aerial game, which Paez thought would match up quite against Curacao.
Paez felt Mexico did a good job to finish atop what he described as a quite difficult Group C, giving the coaching staff a good yardstick on which players they can rely on in the later stages of the tournament and beyond. But first, they must concentrate on a familiar Honduras team in the quarterfinals.
Mexico could turn to striker Erick "Cubo" Torres, especially given his familiarity with his Honduran teammates Boniek Garcia, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto at the Houston Dynamo. Asked about that possibility, Paez suggested that it’s a tempting one.
"Erick [Torres] gave us two great chances in the last game [vs. Jamaica], but this time we were looking to play a more central game where we thought other players were better suited,” said Paez. “But he has a very good chance to start in the following games.
“We will try to narrow down our starting No. 9, but every game will be different. For example, against Honduras, a team that plays with a 5-4-1, we will probably need to start with three forwards. But I will defer the decision to coach Osorio."
Will Mexico be bringing in reinforcements for the next stage? Osorio has previously suggested that it’s unlikely he would take advantage of the Gold Cup rule that allows up to six new players to be swapped into the roster for the knockout rounds.
But Paez seemed to leave that door ajar on Sunday.
“For now we would like to move forward with the players we have,” he said. “But we are aware there is a rule allowing us to exchange six players – something the United States is doing – and we will take it into account.”