Mexico wasn't at its best and may have gotten some help from the man in the middle, but El Tri still punched a ticket to the Copa America quarterfinals and eliminated Jamaica with a 2-0 win in front of a packed house at the Rose Bowl Thursday night.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, who had never scored before against Jamaica, broke a deadlock in the 18th minute with a clinical header, and his substitute, Oribe Peralta, scored in the 81st to account for the scoring. Jamaica had its chances, but Clayton Donaldson's finishing left much to be desired, and Guillermo Ochoa came up with a pair of massive saves on Michael Hector to keep the Reggae Boyz off the board. There was controversy in the form of a non-call on a would-be penalty, when Donaldson was tackled by Yasser Corona in the box, but Jamaica's pleas went unheard.
Mexico is now unbeaten in 21 matches, including a perfect 9-0-0 record under manager Juan Carlos Osorio (outscoring opponents 19-1 in that time), and Chicharito is now just one goal behind Jared Borgetti's national record of 46 after his tally on Thursday.
Here are three thoughts on the match, along with highlights of the key plays:
Mexico wins on a so-so night
Mexico wasn't great Thursday. Jamaica carried stretches of play during both halves, and if not for some bad misses, Ochoa's saves on Hector or the missed PK call, it could've been a different outcome. That said, Mexico held an opponent scoreless for the ninth time in 10 matches and converted the chances it carved out for itself. Soccer can be a complex game, but sometimes it's as simple as that.
As the respective leaders of both teams said, if Jamaica just made good on any of its chances, it's a completely different result:
It's a skill to win when you're not at your best, and Mexico converted in that regard as well.
Donaldson's forgettable evening
If not for Edinson Cavani's miss against Venezuela earlier in the night, Donaldson would have sole possession of whatever is the opposite of the Golden Boot (suggestions, anyone?). The 32-year-old Birmingham City striker, who has seven straight double-digit goal seasons across three tiers of English soccer, was terrible, and he'd likely admit that as well.
Jamaica didn't lose because it didn't have enough chances, it lost mostly because Donaldson couldn't convert them. He was wrongfully denied a penalty–are people really debating whether Corona went through his leg and didn't come close to playing the ball?–and with the game 1-0 at the time, it would've been a pivotal moment in the match, but the series of missed opportunities was tough to watch.
With other capable strikers in the player pool–Darren Mattocks, Deshorn Brown among them–not on the Copa roster, you wonder what went into the construction of the squad and if that ultimately was Jamaica's undoing. The Reggae Boyz have no goals in two games and just a meaningless match against Uruguay remaining before going home, licking their wounds and recharging for World Cup qualifying in the fall.
Fortunately for Jamaica, New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips could be on the way to help out.
An improbable fight for first
Mexico will take on Venezuela for first place in the group in Monday's finale in Houston. By virtue of a goal-differential edge, Mexico needs just a draw to clinch first place, which should come with the incentive of avoiding Argentina in the quarterfinals (provided Messi & Co. handle their two weakest group opponents).
Now, with two nations playing in a neutral country at a foreign stadium, you might expect the Cinderella story to have the bulk of the fan support. Yeah, that's not going to happen on Monday. After drawing a pro-Mexico crowd of over 60,000 to its opener in Arizona and another pro-Tri crowd over over 83,000 in Pasadena, Houston's NRG Stadium will be packed with Mexico green. The USA is the host of this tournament in name, but there's one team that is drawing sellout crowds of fervent fans to all of its stadiums, and it's not the one wearing red, white and blue.
Expect Mexico to ride the momentum to first, while Venezuela's place in the quarterfinals–La Vinotinto had won once in 13 matches leading into Copa!–is an impressive accomplishment in its own right for a nation that could use some good news.
Chicharito opened the scoring for Mexico by heading home a chipped ball from Tecatito Corona, giving Mexico the 1-0 lead:
Jamaica had a slew of first-half chances to equalize but couldn't quite break through. Ochoa, starting after Alfredo Talavera was in net for the opener, played a big role in that, making a remarkable point-blank save:
After a series of misses from Donaldson, the Jamaica forward thought he had a penalty won in the 64th minute after a tackle from Corona. Referee Wilton Pereira Sampiao, perhaps influenced by an earlier dive, did not make the call, even though replay shows Corona clipped Donaldson's leg in the box:
Mexico took full advantage about 15 minutes later. Just having come on for Chicharito, Peralta pounced on a heavy touch in the box from teammate Hector Herrera and tucked a low shot inside the far post to make it 2-0:
Mexico will play Venezuela, a 1-0 winner over Uruguay, for first place in Group C. You can also watch that match, and every match of Copa America Centenario, live in Spanish on Fubo TV. Sign up for a 24-hour free trial here.