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Mexico wins Gold Cup penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica, advances to semifinal

El Tri escapes thanks to a pair of penalty kick round saves by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa

HOUSTON — In front of a Gold Cup record-breaking crowd of 70,788, Mexico and Costa Rica faced off – and gave the crowd an action-packed match that ended with extra time and a penalty shoot-out. El Tri escaped the penalty kick round with a 5-4 advantage and and advances to the semifinals.

During the first 45 minutes, the game went back and forth with good shots from both teams, Mexico being the most aggressive and accurate with its goal-seeking plays – it paid off.

Just as the crowd started to get up from its seats for halftime, Mexican forward Rodolfo Pizzaro sent a perfect cross to teammate Raul Jimenez, who fake kicked the ball and all the five Costa Rican defense fell for the play. Jimenez then blasted the ball into Costa Rica’s net, making the crowd erupt.

“I think the game was very difficult. Costa Rica closed up in the back,  it cost us a bit to open up the lines. I think we deserved a bit more, like another goal, … but the important thing is that we have passed on to the semi-final,” Mexican defender Jesus Daniel Gallardo said.

Mexico controlled 55% of the possession in the first half compared to the 45% of the time Costa Rica had the ball.

During the second half, the tone didn’t change much – a very close match and goals did not come easily.

The Gold Cup is not using VAR, which proved to be a setback for Mexico when referee John Pitti called out a penalty in favor of Costa Rica.

The PK came after Mexican players Jesus Gallardo and Luis Rodriguez went head-to-head against Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell, who fell to turf. The ref ruled Rodriguez kicked Campbell and took him to the turf.

“I am not mad, but I do think it would be helpful if VAR was in the Gold Cup. I think it’s a good technology to help the referees see  if they are wrong, but we don’t have that now so we just have to keep on going,” Gallardo said.

Bryan Ruiz converted the penalty kick and leveled the scoreboard 1-1.

After the equalizer, neither side could put a shot on frame.

Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino had no problem expressing his disapproval and discontent with of the referee of the match.    

“The arbitration was bad. … And [Pitti] may direct the final of the tournament,” said Martino, who was handed a yellow card when he tried to discuss a call against Mexico.

Martino added it’s incredible to him that VAR is available in Mexico and the United States, but the Gold Cup is being played without it.

“Costa Rica is an excellent team, but the reality is that the match should have been won by us in the 90 minutes,” Martino said.

Neither side could break the draw during extra time and the match shifted to a penalty kick shootout.

Carlos Salcedo, Hector Moreno, Jesus Gallardo, Roberto Alvarado and Luis Montes successfully scored for Mexico. Raul Jimenez’s shot was the only one blocked by Costa Rican goalkeeper Leonel Moreira.

As for Costa Rica, Francisco Calvo, Oscar Duarte, Elias Aguilar and Celso Borges all scored.

Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, however, blocked shots by Keyser Fuller and Randall Leal.

NRG Stadium erupted as Mexican fans went wild celebrating the win, thanking Ochoa for saving his team from elimination.

Haiti will face Mexico Tuesday during one of the semifinals in Phoenix, Arizona.

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