Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was the hero as El Tri prevailed 5-4 on penalties against Costa Rica to set up a showdown with rivals the United States in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League final.
After Thursday’s semi-final ended 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes, Ochoa produced the decisive save in the shoot-out to deny Allan Cruz in Denver and send Mexico through to the blockbuster final on Sunday.
CONCACAF Gold Cup holders Mexico – missing injured star Raul Jimenez – drew a blank across 90 minutes and had missed their first penalty via Uriel Antuna.
Hirving Lozano, Orbelin Pineda, Alan Pulido, Luis Romo and Jesus Gallardo all converted their ensuing spot-kicks, after Oscar Duarte missed for Costa Rica, before Ochoa’s crucial intervention diving to his right to save Cruz’s effort.
The win continues Mexico’s dominance over Costa Rica, winning all three shoot-outs and their past nine encounters, dating back to 2013.
Lozano almost spectacularly opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a right-foot overhead kick, which hit the crossbar after a touch from Leonel Moreira – who was deputising for absent Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Diego Lainez came close for Mexico with a drilled shot going narrowly wide 12 minutes later against Costa Rica.
Costa Rica created chances of their own, with former Arsenal forward Joel Campbell setting up Keysher Fuller for an angled shot which was blocked by Ochoa.
Bryan Ruiz and Costa Rica team-mate Campbell combined, with the crafty Alonso Martinez shooting off target on his left foot on the half-hour mark.
Mexico almost broke the deadlock shortly before half-time after a clever dummy from Henry Martin opened up a side-foot chance for Hector Herrera but Moreira was up to the task.
Martinez muscled his way into the box but blazed a deflected shot wide after the break, while Herrera produced a powerful 57th-minute strike from range which stung Moreira’s palms, before the game went to penalties.
What does it mean? The old rivalry resumes
Mexico’s win renews the rivalry with their northern neighbours, USA, with the two sides to meet in the first-ever CONCACAF Nations League final. El Tri have dominated in recent times, winning the 2015 and 2019 Gold Cups, while the USA missed out on 2018 World Cup qualification.
Costa Rica’s wait goes on
The Ticos pushed Mexico all the way and were not far from their first regional final since 2002. Costa Rica, who made the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals, lost Gold Cup semis in 2017, 2009 and 2003 – the latter two both to Mexico.
Mexican goal worries
Without injured Wolvers forward Jimenez and the overlooked Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Tata Martino’s side went goalless. Lozano has actually scored all of Mexico’s past four goals and Martino will be desperate to find some alternate weapons in attack.
The final will take place in Denver on Sunday as Mexico, who are ranked 11th in the world, take on the USA for the first time since September 2019. Mexico are unbeaten in their past four competitive matches against the United States. Costa Rica will play Honduras in Sunday’s third-place final.
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