Corona keeps Mexico from slipping in win vs. Curacao to top Group C
SAN ANTONIO -- Mexico finished top of Group C in the Gold Cup thanks to its 2-0 victory over Curacao in front of 44,232 in the Alamodome in San Antonio. Angel Sepulveda opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, with Edson Alvarez wrapping up the scoring in second-half injury time.
The win sets up a quarterfinal against Honduras on Thursday in Phoenix. Here are three takes from the match:
1. Corona stars in goal for El Tri
The fact Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona was the man of the match tells the story of a game El Tri came all too close to letting slip.
Mexico took the lead early when Sepulveda headed in at the back post from a cross swung in by Raul Lopez. From there, the outcome should've been a mere formality against a side already out of the Gold Cup. But Mexico was reliant on a string of quality saves from Cruz Azul's 36-year-old keeper to keep it in the lead.
The best chance early on came from Curacao's Gino Van Kessel, who must've thought he'd scored when he sent a right-footed shot toward the bottom corner of the goal, but Corona managed to react quickly and flicked the ball around the post with his right hand.
From there in the first half, it was a familiar story, with Mexico controlling possession and Curacao not looking particularly dangerous. At halftime, the feeling was that El Tri would pull away from Curacao and even notch a few goals.
Instead, it was Curacao with the better opportunities, with Corona pulling off the type of save in the 56th minute that is up there with the flashy shot-stopping for which his Mexico rival Guillermo Ochoa is famous. Jarchinio Antonia hit the bar right after in a period in which Mexico was on the ropes.
Mexico's inexperience shone through against a team with little to lose, and Osorio should be concerned about El Tri's inability to control a game against an opposition that might have been the second-highest in Group C in terms of FIFA rankings but is far from a real power.
Mexico scraped the result in the end, and Alvarez made the score line look better than it deserved to be with a late second for El Tri, but there are concerns defensively with the way teams such as El Salvador and Curacao have sliced the side open and created so many good opportunities.
Thankfully for El Tri on Sunday, the side had an in-form Corona to back it up, but Mexico will have to improve if it is to win the Gold Cup.
2. Gutierrez the captain, but Lopez the pick of incomers
Midfielder Erick Gutierrez stepped out for only his seventh cap on Sunday and did so at the front of the team with the captain's armband on. The 22-year-old regularly captains club side Pachuca, but this was a message of support from Osorio toward a left-footed midfielder many thought would have more Mexico caps at this point in his career.
But it was his Pachuca teammate Lopez who was able to bolster his chances of more regular playing time. Playing as a right winger, former Chivas player Lopez added a different dimension to Mexico's play. Lopez isn't the quickest over short distances, but he doesn't need much space to whip dangerous crosses in. Osorio had complained that against Jamaica, Mexico needed more incision in the final third, and Lopez's crossing provided a different outlet when the intricate passing wasn't proving fruitful.
Sepulveda's goal highlighted what Lopez can bring very clearly. And on a night in which Cesar Montes and Martin Barragan were unconvincing in their first starts for El Tri and right-back Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez couldn't shine, it was Lopez and his crossing that stood out.
Osorio has certainly made full use of his squad so far, with 21 of the 23 players featuring so far in the Gold Cup.
3. Honduras next up for El Tri
"La H" will pose Mexico's sternest test yet. The Central American team might not have clicked into gear so far this Gold Cup, and hasn't even scored a goal, but Jorge Luis Pinto and fellow Colombian Osorio are archrivals, pitting two very different footballing philosophies.
Curacao came out to play more than expected against Mexico and exposed its weak defense. On the flip side, El Tri had more space to operate in compared to the 0-0 draw last Thursday against Jamaica. Finding opportunities wasn't anywhere near as difficult as it was against the Reggae Boyz.
The shrewd Pinto -- who guided Costa Rica to the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup -- will have watched Mexico's games at this Gold Cup very closely, and you can guarantee he'll already be formulating a plan. It'll be a case of Honduras stopping El Tri by playing as much as possible, retracting into its own half, not giving Mexico space or time on the ball and employing tactical fouls when necessary.
Mexico was caught short against a Jamaica side that did something similar, and Osorio will need to find an answer with a squad that has shown some positives but has not convinced so far this Gold Cup.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.