A subpar effort in its previous match only added to the anxiety Mexico was feeling in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Playing without several stars and their head coach, El Tri leaned on emotion and determination to remain unbeaten in the 14th edition of the Gold Cup.
Angel Sepulveda and Edson Alvarez scored and Mexico held on to beat Curacao 2-0 on Sunday night at the Alamodome to win Group C and continue its bid for a fourth championship in five years.
Mexico advanced to face Honduras in the quarterfinals Thursday night in Glendale, Arizona.
Playing without stars such as Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico turned to its younger talent and they produced in front of a partisan crowd of 44,232.
“I was just excited to play,” said Mexico defender Raul Lopez, who assisted on the game-winning goal. “I hadn’t played the first two games. I’m really thrilled we got the win.”
The defending champions had a surprisingly tough match against Curacao, which was competing in the Gold Cup for the first time.
“I told the players we deserved to be here and we put Curacao on the map,” Curacao coach Remko Bicentini said.
Coming off a scoreless draw against Jamaica on Thursday night in Denver, Mexico was able to overcome a gritty effort by Curacao to finish 2-0-1 in Group C.
“It was a very complicated match for us,” said defender Cesar Montes, in his debut with Mexico’s national team. “The reality is you have to respect every team. The majority of these guys play in Europe, in Holland, and they’re a tough matchup.”
After dominating the opening minutes, Mexico escaped two early scares by Curacao’s Gino Van Kessel. With three defenders closely shadowing him, Van Kessel was forced to blast an attempt that sailed high over the goal. Van Kessel had a clear shot on his second attempt, but his kick from about 20 feet was deflected by Jesus Corona.
“Our rival today had opportunities to score,” Corona said. “They were strong in the open field. They just didn’t take advantage of those open spaces. That’s something we can’t allow moving forward.”
Mexico held possession for 62 percent of the match, but only had nine shots on goal compared to eight by Curacao.
Sepulveda scored on a diving header in the 22nd minute off a cross-field assist from Lopez.
“My instructions were to send as many crosses as I could,” Lopez said. “I like looking for the players in the area.
“On the goal, I was just looking for the space. I got that and just sent the pass to the far post.”
Alvarez scored in the 90th minute shortly after injury time was added.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio celebrated Alvarez’s goal from a suite in the Alamodome while serving the third of a six-match suspension from FIFA for his actions toward officials during a Confederations Cup match.
Jamaica beat El Salvador 1-0 in the earlier match, but both advanced out of Group C based on match points.