Another Mexico win. Another controversial penalty. A few scuffles between players, coaches and staffs. Trash on the field.
It was either one of the more interesting games in the Gold Cup or one of the worst in the event’s history when Mexico used two penalty kicks — one that even Mexico said wasn’t a penalty — to defeat Panama 2-1 in the semifinals of the tournament on Wednesday at the Georgia Dome. More than 70,000 tickets were sold for the game, a new record for soccer in the city.
Not that the new mark mattered after the game.
“Happiness in the tournament was lost tonight,” Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez said through a translator.
Mexico will face Jamaica, which upset the U.S. 2-1 in the first semifinal, in Sunday’s championship game in Philadelphia. The U.S. will play Panama on Saturday in the third-place game.
But rehashing the second semifinal and not previewing the championship may dominate soccer conversations for the next 24 hours.
Trailing 10-man Panama 1-0 in the 88th minute, Mexico was awarded a penalty when U.S. referee Mark Geiger judged that Roman Torres handled the ball in the penalty box. Torres, who scored the goal to give Panama the lead early in the second half, was trying to kick the ball back over his head in the goalie box to snuff out what may have been Mexico’s last gasp. The ball didn’t go far and Torres fell backward onto it. The ball appeared to be trapped under his side as he raised his arms to avoid touching it. Instead, the penalty was awarded. Infuriated by the call, goalkeeper Jaime Penedo booted the ball into the second deck.
“It wasn’t a penalty,” Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said through a translator. “The refereeing wasn’t good. We feel bad for Panama.”
Gomez described it as a stolen goal.
Panama was already aggravated after Geiger showed Luis Tejada a straight red card in the first half.
The penalty call proved too much.
Some members of both teams began pointing fingers and getting into each other’s faces until they were forcibly separated by security as trash rained onto the field, thrown by fans.
After order was restored and the teams separated, Andres Guardado stepped up and buried the penalty to tie the game and send it into extra time.
The call immediately brought out cries of conspiracy because Mexico only advanced to the semifinal after a “phantom” foul and converted penalty kick by Guardado in its quarterfinal win over Costa Rica on Sunday. In that 1-0 win, it appeared that Oribe Peralta threw himself down in the final minutes.
The game-winning penalty on Wednesday wasn’t controversial. In the 13th minute of extra time, Panama’s Harold Cummings hip-checked Javier Orozco in the penalty box. Guardado slammed the penalty into the corner to give Mexico a 2-1 lead.
As soon as the final whistle sounded, some of Panama’s players again charged at Guardado. This time, the anger diffused quickly.
“This is not the ideal way to win,” Herrera said. “We aren’t happy.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.