Mexico gains control quickly in 4-0 win over Costa Rica
Mexico’s age-group national teams have been on quite a roll over the last decade, winning two U-17 world championships, reaching the semifinals of a U-20 World Cup and capturing the country’s first Olympic soccer title three years ago in London.
That last prize is the shiniest jewel in Mexico’s crown. And it’s one the country took a first step toward successfully defending Friday, riding two first-half goals to a dominant 4-0 win over Costa Rica at StubHub Center in a group-play opener of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament.
In the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, Honduras got a goal from Antony Lozano in the sixth minute, then held on for a surprisingly difficult 1-0 win over Haiti.
But if Honduras was barely surviving its game, Mexico showed it is on a mission to prove its win in the last Olympics wasn’t a fluke.
“We’re the defending champions. That motivates us,” Mexican Coach Raul Gutierrez said in Spanish. “And we have a responsibility to live up to that.”
They did that and more Friday.
Leon forward Marco Bueno got the rout started in the 19th minute, taking a pass from Atlas’ Arturo Gonzalez inside the penalty area and pushing a low right-footed shot past Costa Rican keeper Carlos Martinez in the 19th minute.
Mexico needed some help in doubling its lead seconds before the intermission. The sequence started with Gonzalez bending a low corner kick toward former Chivas USA standout Cubo Torres at the near post. Torres let the ball go through his legs and it struck the right foot of Costa Rican defender William Fernandez, deflecting just between Martinez and the goal and into the net.
Bueno and Pachuca’s Hirving Lozano teamed up for the third goal late in the second half, with Bueno splitting a pair of defenders and chesting down a Lozano cross before beating a sprawling Martinez again with a left-footed shot from about eight yards out.
Torres, now with Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, finished the scoring in the 88th minute, collecting a pass from Atlas’ Daniel Alvarez that was too long for Pachuca’s Victor Guzman and deftly redirecting it home.
“It wasn’t an easy game, even though the score would indicate otherwise,” Gutierrez said. “But it was a competitive game.
“The ideal plan is always to start with a win. That gives you more margin going forward.”
A victory over Haiti in its second game Sunday at the StubHub Center would guarantee Mexico a spot in next week’s semifinals in Salt Lake City. And a win there would give Mexico not just a spot in the tournament final but a berth in the Rio Olympics as well, marking the first time the country has qualified for consecutive Summer Games since 1996.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, needs a win over Honduras in its second game to keep its hopes alive.
“Mexico is superior,” Costa Rican Coach Luis Fernando Fallas said, an opinion no one argued with.
“Mexico was stronger. It did a better job controlling the game. And now we have to find a way forward.
“We have two important games left. We have to win them.”
In Friday’s first game Lozano, who made his debut in the Honduran first division when he was just 15, got the only score off a corner kick, collecting a rebound off the body of Alberth Elis and using his right foot to volley it between two defenders and off the crossbar. Defender Jose Barralaga then saved the win by clearing a loose ball from in front of the Honduran goal deep in stoppage time.
“The first game is always an important one to win to gain confidence. Without doubt, we’re satisfied with the result,” said Coach Carlos Tabora, whose Honduran team has played in three Olympics since 2000, more than Mexico or the United States.
The U.S. won its qualifying opener Thursday, beating Canada in Kansas City, Kan.
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