A controversial penalty decision gave Mexico a lifeline in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-finals, as Miguel Herrera’s men came from behind to earn a 2-1 win over 10-man Panama after extra-time.
The Panamanians were minutes from earning a final’s berth against Jamaica, before American referee Mark Geiger pointed to the spot for an alleged handball by Panama captain Roman Torres – who had earlier scored the game’s opener.
Any handball by Torres appeared incidental, as the defender fell to the ground, landing on the ball on his side after an aerial challenge.
Torres’ opposite number, Mexico captain Andres Guardado stepped up to convert from the 12-yard spot in the 10th minute of second-half injury time, not before Hernan Dario Gomez’s men staged a protest at the decision that delayed the game by at least 10 minutes.
Mexico were awarded another spot-kick late in the first half of extra-time, and Guardado sent Penedo the wrong way as Panama trailed for the first time all tournament.
Panama’s frustration was again evident after conceding via another penalty, and more scenes of discontent were on show – Gomez’s side taking their time to regather before the re-start.
And there would be no fairytale comeback on the cards at Georgia Dome, as Mexico advanced to their fourth Gold Cup final in five tournaments – while Panama were relegated to the third-place play-off against United States.
Geiger earlier sent off Luis Tejada in the 25th minute, and dished out four other yellow cards to Panama’s side – compared to two for Mexico.
One of those cautions for Miguel Herrera’s men was to Carlos Vela in the fourth minute – the Real Sociedad man lucky not to be further sanctioned after elbowing Anibal Godoy in the midriff.
After losing Tejada – who also protested his dismissal by taking four minutes to leave the turf – Panama took the lead in the 57th minute when Torres outmuscled Francisco Rodriguez to head home Eric Davis’ corner.
Panama’s number nine Roberto Nurse was hit by a full drink cup amid the goal celebrations, in one of several ugly incidents to play out in Atlanta, Georgia.
Despite playing for the best part of 65 minutes with 10 players, Panama rarely looked in trouble at the back, and were set to hold on to reach back-to-back Gold Cup finals before Geiger intervened.
Panama’s players headed for the sideline following the awarding of the penalty, and meandered for more than 10 minutes as they actively protested the decision – but Guardado kept his cool following the break to equalise.
Mexico had the run of play early in extra-time, with Penedo getting his hands on the ball several times to keep out Herrera’s side.
The Mexicans’ pressure was eventually felt when Harold Cummings nudged substitute Javier Orozco off the ball inside the area, sandwiching the Mexico forward with Adolfo Machado in the process – and Geiger had no choice but to award another penalty.
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