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Mexico moved on the final of the 2021 Gold Cup after defeating Canada 2-1. Photo: Getty Images.
Mexico moved on the final of the 2021 Gold Cup after defeating Canada 2-1. Photo: Getty Images.

Mexico and USMNT reach the Gold Cup final… again

CONCACAF’s two most successful national teams will clash in the final of the 2021 Gold Cup after not having all of their top players.

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The two semi-final matches of the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup were played on Thursday, July 29. 

Qatar was invited to the tournament after pulling out of the Copa America and because they will host the FIFA World Cup next year. The Middle Eastern nation ended up being the surprise of the competition after respectfully bowing out against the U.S. in a 0-1 loss in Austin. 

It took the Americans until the 86th minute to score thanks to substitute Gyasi Zaredes getting on the end of a pass from Nicholas Giocchini in the goal area. 

The first half was dominated by Qatar and they had three times the amount of shots as the USMNT across the whole game. If it was not for a missed penalty in the 60th minute by their number 10 Al Haidos they would have gone up earlier in the encounter. 

When they participated in the 2019 Copa America, the guest nation finished bottom of their group and were only able to muster a draw against Paraguay.

Canada was dumped out of the Gold Cup by Mexico and they also gave the tournament favorite a run for their money. 

“El Tri” controlled possession, but “The Canucks” tested their opponent’s goalkeeper early on. Mexico went up after the referee awarded them a penalty close to the end of the first half. 

Orbelin Pineda put away his chance and celebrated with teammate Jonathan dos Santos, whose father, Geraldo Francisco ‘Zizinho’ dos Santos, passed away earlier that day. He was a Brazilian soccer player who made a name for himself playing in Mexico. 

Canada leveled the game in the 57th minute and Mexico put themselves in a worse scenario after they missed a second penalty they were given less than 10 minutes after conceding. 

When it seemed like the match would go to extra time, midfielder Hector Herrera sent Mexico into the final, drilling a shot from the edge of the 18-yard box in the dying minutes of the game. 

The goal Canada scored is the only goal Mexico has conceded so far in the tournament. 

The Americans have also only been scored on once in the competition and it came in the group stage against Martinique. 

Both “El Tri” and the USMNT did not present their top squad for the Gold Cup, but still reached the final with relative ease aside from challenging semi-finals. 

Since 1991, when the tournament was officially rebranded as the Gold Cup, the U.S. and Mexico have met in the final on seven occasions. They have also claimed nearly every championship, aside from Canada’s victory in 2000, since the rebranding. 

Mexico has eight titles compared to America’s six. “El Tri” is the most recent champion after defeating their top rival in the 2019 edition of the tournament.

Fans have grown accustomed to this final and it represents the difference in quality between national teams in CONCACAF. 

FIFA currently ranks Mexico as the 11th best national side with the U.S. coming close in 20th place. The next nearest team in the world standings is Jamaica in 45th place. 

Their opponents in the matches on Thursday evening, Canada and Qatar, fall well below the fifty strongest nations in the sport. 

Having opponents this poor allows the North American giants to field alternative squads. 

Many of Mexico’s players traveled to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this Summer, and USMNT coach, Gregg Berhalter, chose to give many of his top stars playing in Europe a break, opting for having a squad mainly composed of MLS players. 

The managers also do not want to risk a serious injury to one of their key players with crucial World Cup qualifying matches coming in the Fall. 

Even winning the competition is not as glamorous anymore because of the expected finalist. The financial rewards are dismal compared to the rewards for the Euros and Copa America. 

Each team who qualified for the group of this year’s edition of the Gold Cup received $200,000 and the winner will be awarded $1 million.

For participating in the 2021 Copa America, each of the 10 teams received $4 million and the champion took home an extra $10 million. 

The Euros give out the most lucrative prizes to their participants. Eventual winners Italy took home $40 million in total prize money. 

Surprisingly, winning the final gives a national team $11.8 million, while simply qualifying for the continental tournament awards teams $11 million. 

CONCACAF is behind other confederations when it comes to quality of teams and finances. This has many asking whether or not Mexico and the U.S. should compete in South America instead. 

Both countries have competed in past editions of the Copa America and many South American professionals play in the Liga MX and MLS. 

This would make it more difficult for the two North American giants to qualify for the World Cup, but it may also be necessary for them to become stronger sides as they would be coming against tougher opponents more often. 

The higher ups in CONCACAF would be against this switch since it would sink the confederation into a similar irrelevancy that Oceania faces. 

Mexico and the U.S. also provide them with most of their revenue since they have the largest fan bases. 

It is not uncommon for national teams to compete in confederations that they do not geographically pertain to. 

Guyana, French Guyana and Suriname are located in South America, but they compete in CONCACAF. 

Israel is in the Middle East, but because of its tense relationship with its neighbors, they were expelled from the Asian Football Confederation and now play in UEFA competitions. 

It is unlikely that Mexico and the U.S. will switch their allegiance to the South American confederation, but if they stay in CONCACAF, they may never take the next step they need to be top contenders at the World Cup.

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