Mexico and Panama advance as Cahill talks up AT&T Stadium’s World Cup credentials

The Concacaf Gold Cup returned to AT&T Stadium for the sixth time, hosting the first two quarterfinals.

Panama returns to the semifinals for the first time since 2015 on the back of a Ismael Diaz hat-trick against recent World Cup hosts, Qatar, while Mexico made the final four of the Gold Cup for the ninth consecutive time at the expense of Costa Rica. Los Ticos exit in the quarterfinals for the eighth time in ten tournaments, struggling to threaten Memo Ochoa’s goal.

Short-handed Qatar sent home by Diaz hat-trick

Qatar came into the game as the surprise quarterfinalist following a shock 1-0 win over Mexico that saw The Maroons eek past Honduras on goal difference. Six yellow cards in that game and an earlier red card forced Carlos Queiroz to make six changes and field a short bench that wouldn’t even include the former Real Madrid coach. Tim Cahill stood in for the Portuguese on the bench.

It should have been expected that Panama would control the game, and it came as no surprise when Edgar Barcenas gave Los Canaleros the lead in the 19th minute. Ismael Diaz spread the ball out left for Andres Andrade to float a cross to the back post. Barcenas powered the ball over the head of Hazem Shehata, leaving the scorer in Qatar’s win over Mexico in a heap. The Video Assistant Referee took a while to clear the goal but deemed there to be no foul on Shehata.

Qatar didn’t have a lot of offense in the first half, but wasted a golden chance just seconds after the break. A long ball was pumped into the box from the Qatari midfield, Ali Almoez slipped his marker to received the ball with his back to goal but his volley attempt flew well over the bar.

The 2022 World Cup hosts were strong in possession but could do nothing about Coco Quarrasquilla’s beautiful outside-of-the-boot ball over the back line to send Ismael Diaz through on goal in the 56th minute. Diaz knocked the ball past the onrushing keeper as a last-ditch challenge came in to make it 2-0.

Diaz made it 3-0 in the 63rd, benefiting from a scramble in the Qatar box, then completed his hat-trick two minutes later, playing a neat one-two with Jose Fajardo enroute to goal. Diaz’s nine-minute hat-trick broke the record for fastest in Gold Cup history.

With the result sealed and a half hour to play, Thomas Christiansen rotated players off in preparation of a semi-final against either the USMNT or Canada.

Exceptional AT&T Stadium is World Cup-worthy

Qatar coach Tim Cahill is a veteran of four World Cups with Australia. The first Aussie to score at the tournament sees the home of the Cowboys as a World Cup-worthy venue that is key to Qatar’s own preparations.

“I think [AT&T] Stadium is exceptional,” said Cahill. “I don’t think the pitch is great, you could see that the both teams were struggling to play the ball on the floor and to move it quickly. But I suppose those sorts of things are just cosmetic and can be fixed.”

The surface at AT&T Stadium has long been a concern with several Mexican players sustaining injuries on poorly-installed grass surfaces, and a famous incident where Lionel Messi’s foot got stuck under a section of grass that lifted off the floor.

There are plans in place to expand the field size by raising the level several feet to cover the field-level suites and several rows of seating as part of its bid to host the World Cup Final. The field would be managed by FIFA, who would ensure a fully-grown and properly rooted grass surface.

Cahill went on to explain the importance of his players getting experience in big arenas in front of large hostile crowds before giving a further opinion on the United States’ preparations for 2026.

“I wish America all the very best with it,” continued Cahill. “On this journey because it’s not easy, making sure your facilities, training grounds. It’s been difficult for us to find even training grounds to train on here. We’ve been making do with ballrooms at the hotel, walking through set plays, so hopefully they’ll have more training facilities available.”

Dallas-Fort Worth boasts the 18-field Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco and MoneyGram Park in Dallas. Both have hosted national teams for pre-tournament camps. Ross Stewart Soccer Complex in Farmers Branch – home to the Dallas Texans – was also a proposal to host the referees’ training center in 2026.

Late Sanchez Finish Eases El Tri Through

Interim Mexico coach Jaime Lozano also made six changes, mostly welcoming players back from resting for the loss to Qatar. Costa Rica head coach Luis Suarez named an unchanged XI from his side’s 6-4 win over Martinique that earned their second-place finish in group C.

The second quarterfinal started in a far more even manner in front of the full AT&T Stadium. Jorge Sanchez forced Kevin Chamorro into a fifth minute save. Memo Ochoa had to be at full stretch to push away a shot from Anthony Contreras three minutes later.

The fast-paced start made the game a little chippy, Costa Rica’s Wilmer Azofeifa picked up an early yellow card. The 60,355-strong crowd gave a chorus of boos after Chamorro cleared out the legs of Orbelin Pindea with referee Said Martinez waving play-on.

The game lulled into a state of boredom verging on frustration for the largely-Mexican crowd. Costa Rica defended well, restricting Mexico’s chances in and around the box. That all changed in the 51st minute as Henry Martin was brought down in the Ticos’ box by Kendall Waston. Pineda rolled the spot kick barely to Chamorro’s left, with the Costa Rica keeper caught wrong-footed as he attempted to change direction.

With the crowd off their backs, El Tri looked to open the game up further. Pineda remained a constant threat as both teams narrowly missed the target several times. El Tri seemed content with keeping hold of the ball, with several passages of play where the ball cycled through almost all of the outfield players. For Costa Rica, it was prevent a second goal and hope to catch Mexico on the break.

The Mexico fans broke into several laps of the wave they introduced to the sport in the 1986 World Cup. What has become synonymous with games that lacked excitement, was rather on point with a game that lacked any punch aside from the first 20 minutes.

With eight minutes remaining both coaches made multiple changes. A triple-substitution for Costa Rica including a move to a two-striker formation with high wings showed their intention to try and force an equalizer. Mexico’s own double-change paid off almost immediately as Roberto Alvadaro – on for Pineda – found Erick Sanchez at the edge of the six-yard box to double the lead in the 87th minute.

There was late cause for concern as Ajax defender Edson Alvarez went down clutching his hamstring with the game entering stoppage time. Refusing the stretcher, the Mexico No.4 limped off to be replaced by Israel Reyes.

Mexico eased out the five minutes of added time, and now heads back to Las Vegas looking to avenge the Nations League failure, where they’ll face the winner of the Guatemala/Jamaica quarterfinal.

1 Comment

  1. “The Mexico fans broken into several laps of the wave they introduced to the sport in the 1986 World Cup. ”
    We did the wave at Dallas Tornado games well before Mexico hosted the WC.

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