The long-standing rivalry between Mexico and their northern neighbours USA came to a head for the third consecutive time in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl, with El Tri's pacey, attacking style too much for the Americans as they came from behind to secure the 4-2 victory. An outstanding performance from goalscorers Andres Guardado, Pablo Barrera (2), and Giovani dos Santos denied any real chance for USA, who had taken the initial lead through Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan.
The Mexicans, with strong support from the 93,000-plus Southern California crowd, came out with incredible pace, living up to expectations with a powerful attacking display in the final. Javier Chicharito Hernandez was knocking on the door within two minutes, but was unable to get any real power behind his volley, nor hook it on frame.
El Tri were bursting with speed and gave the United States plenty of trouble in the opening exchanges as they charged down the right flank. Just after the five minute mark, USA were given a scare, when Hernandez was taken down in the midfield, and with the referee waving play on, Dos Santos picked up the loose ball to fire just wide of Tim Howard’s goal.
The Stars and Stripes, however, were the first to find the net, with Bob Bradley’s surprise starting choice in Freddy Adu initiating the play. The youngster, combining with Landon Donovan just outside the area, forced the Mexicans to give up a corner-kick. Adu served in the cross, and Michael Bradley floated into the air to redirect his header into the back of Alfredo Talavera’s net in the eighth minute.
Mexico, who must have been stunned as they had been on the front foot from the opening whistle, began feeding fine passes through to Chicharito, who was begging for a goal. Just before the quarter-hour mark, Hernandez hit a Barrera cross over Howard’s bar, and followed that effort up with an incredible chance only to see his shot hit off the right post. But it was the United States, again, who capitalised on shaky defending from the Mexicans. Clint Dempsey passed a neat ball into Donovan, who found himself through in the area, and hammered his shot past Talavera to put the US two up.
The Mexicans began to break down the United States’ defense, though, and it was not long before they found a goal of their own. Hernandez turned provider as he split the US centre-backs to find Barrera, who made no mistake in the 29th minute. And it took little time for the pressuring Mexicans to find a deserved equaliser. Just under ten minutes later, Andres Guardado began to show tremendous form on the attack to score his third goal of the tournament. Dos Santos cracked a shot across the goal, hoping to sneak his effort into the far post, but Guardado needed only to tap home to ensure they left things level before the break.
“They spread us out, they had about four or five guys across the frontline and our backline could not figure it out today," said USA defender Carlos Bocanegra.
Within five minutes of the restart, the Pasadena crowd again erupted with delight when Pablo Barrera punished the US defence, who were leaving too much space for the attacking tacticians to work in the area. Barrera received a fine pass from Guardado on the right side of the box, and fired a brilliant low-drive past Howard to make it a brace on the night. The Americans were immediately searching for a solution, hoping not to again be denied by Mexico at these finals.
"It was an overall frustrating night," Bocanegra said. "Defensively we weren't good enough."
Tempers began to mount between the two familiar foes, with Carlos Bocanegra earning a free-kick for the United States after a heated encounter with Dos Santos. Donovan’s subsequent set piece found two different heads, but the chance ultimately flew over the bar. Chicharito had a chance at the other end just three minutes later, but his nod was easily caught by Howard.
The sturdy keeper was not to be so lucky though, as Dos Santos dribbled around the desperate net-minder, who, sprawled on the ground, could not pull the ball off the midfielder’s feet. Dos Santos danced around Howard, and chipped his chance into the top corner, just over the leaping Eric Lichaj, who was covering the far post. It was a bitter ending for the United States as Mexico again hoist the Gold Cup trophy.