Reggae Boyz upset Mexico to qualify for Gold Cup final
Mexico Goalkeeper Jesus Corona, left, watches a goal scored by Jamaica's Kemar Lawrence during the second half of their CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinal match in Pasadena, Calif., Sunday, July 23, 2017.
Kemar Lawrence scored on an exquisite 24-yard free kick in the 88th minute, and Jamaica advanced to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final with a 1-0 upset victory over Mexico on Sunday night.
Jamaica will face the United States on Wednesday night at Santa Clara, California. The Reggae Boyz are seeking their first championship in soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region.
Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake kept the game scoreless with a series of saves while Mexico dominated possession despite missing most of their top players.
Lawrence's late strike froze goalkeeper Jesus Corona. The ball rose past a five-man wall and curled into the left corner just below the bar for the New York Red Bulls defender's third career international goal and first in three years.
The Reggae Boyz have reached the final for the second straight Gold Cup tournament, but this stunning upset at the Rose Bowl ranks among their biggest international wins. Mexico has won seven Gold Cup titles, the U.S. five and Canada one.
Trying to win their second consecutive Gold Cup and fourth in five tournaments, Mexico used the deeper reaches of their player pool following the World Cup qualifiers and the Confederations Cup last month. While teams were allowed to make up to six substitutions for the knockout rounds, El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he was blocked by Mexico's clubs.
Mexico hadn't trailed in the tournament before Lawrence's late goal, but El Tri also hadn't been impressive — no player scored more than one goal. That lack of finishing skill ultimately cost Mexico, which failed to advance to the Gold Cup final for just the second time in the last six tournaments.
The crowd was dominated by Mexico's vast Southern California fan base, but the Rose Bowl was less than half-full with just 42,393 fans. The absence of Chicharito Hernandez and other top Mexican stars, combined with El Tri's unattractive performances in the Gold Cup to date, apparently kept many of their usual faithful at home.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino watched the semifinal from the Rose Bowl stands. So did Osorio, who served the fifth game of a six-match FIFA ban for his conduct toward officials during the Confederations Cup.
Blake made two brilliant saves in succession in the 12th minute, diving twice to stop close-range chances by Jesus Duenas and Erick Torres, the Houston Dynamo star and the only player on the current roster from outside Mexico's domestic leagues.
Blake did it again in the 25th minute, stopping Torres' point-blank header from the top of the 6-yard box with improbably quick reactions.
Jesus Molina sent Blake crashing to the ground with aerial contact in the 34th minute while competing for a ball in the box, but Jamaica rallied and forced Corona to make his own diving stop in the 38th minute off a free kick.
Jesus Gallardo's 22-yard free kick also was punched away adroitly in the 65th minute by Blake for his sixth official save.
Jamaica got a chance in the 56th minute, but substitute Ricardo Morris' 14-yard shot went straight to Corona. Damion Lowe got another golden chance with a sharp header off a free kick in the 78th minute, but Corona dived to swat it away.