Mexico, Panama reach Gold Cup semis
ATLANTA -- Mexico coach Jose Manuel De La Torre knows there's only so much he can do to please his critics.
A narrow win over Trinidad and Tobago might rekindle concerns about his job security, but De La Torre was not interested in discussing his future or his team's perceived struggles.
When a reporter asked De La Torre if he thought this was a weak victory, the coach was quick to respond.
"You don't like it? We saw a different game," De La Torre said. "That's what I can tell you. Every time we win, we have to enjoy it. A win is a win, but that is enough. We always have to fix things but we also did a lot of great things tonight."
Raul Jimenez scored in the 84th minute to lead Mexico to a 1-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup on Saturday night.
Mexico, a six-time Gold Cup champion going for its third straight title, will face Panama in the semifinals on Wednesday in Dallas.
Jimenez used his right foot to redirect Miguel Layun's shot attempt from the right side with a sweeping move that helped the ball sail just past diving goalkeeper Jan Williams and into the left corner of the net.
Three of Mexico's 11 shots in the first half were on goal, but Williams only had to dive once to make a save. The other two attempts went right into his hands.
In the 62nd minute, Layun attempted a shot from the right top corner of the box. His arc looked to be on line before Williams stretched out to deflect the ball high.
Barely 1 minute later, Williams tipped away a shot by Jimenez, but he couldn't prevent him from scoring the winning goal with about 5 minutes remaining.
Williams faced 23 shots. Mexico keeper Jonathan Orozco faced seven.
Trinidad and Tobago ended Gold Cup play with a 1-2-1 record.
"It feels worse when you give up a goal so late in the game," Trinidad and Tobago coach Stephen Hart said, "but congratulations to Mexico."
Hart was not discouraged, though, adding that his team at least gave itself a chance to win.
"We need to possess the ball better and keep it out of the feet of the opposition," he said. "That needs to improve and our ability to attack with a little more variety. Our fullbacks did not get involved today at all, which is a big part of our game. There's some work to be done."
A 2-1 loss to Panama in a group match earlier this month dropped Mexico to 2-3-8 in international play this year, but the team has since won three straight.
Against Panama in four days, Mexico might play its second straight game without midfielder Jorge Enriquez, who sat out Saturday with a leg injury.
Panama this time will have Blas Perez, a leading scorer who did not play against Mexico because of a Major League Soccer commitment to FC Dallas.
"It's a different game, a very different game," De La Torre said. "We start over. We have had three more games that the team has improved upon since then. Little by little, we showed it tonight in the results and in seeing the confidence that each of the players has been able to achieve."
De La Torre believed his team showed composure to persistently pressure Williams in hopes he would make a mistake.
It's the same approach he wants Mexico to take against Panama.
"The team did not become desperate," De La Torre said. "They were under our strategy and our plan in order to win. It was very good on our end that we (took care of) the sides, the middle and the center."
Notes: CONCACAF officials announced a crowd of 54,229, a soccer record at the 21-year-old Georgia Dome. ... Mexico improved to 12-3-3 against Trinidad and Tobago, including a pair of wins in the Gold Cup. This was the first meeting between the teams in a knockout round.
Panama 6, Cuba 1
ATLANTA -- Coach Julio Dely Valdes was upset when Panama's sudden lapse in concentration led to an early goal for Cuba.
Panama didn't need long, though, to regain its aggressive identity and make Valdes smile.
"It came in a moment when Panama was dominating the game, and we were looking to attack," Valdes said. "It's very difficult when you get scored upon because it gets very complicated. We had to continue to pursue the attack."
Gabriel Torres scored two goals in the first half to help Panama beat 10-man Cuba 6-1 in the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup on Saturday.
Panama, which has three wins and no losses in four Gold Cup games this year, advanced to the semifinals next week in Dallas.
Torres, whose penalty kick in the 25th minute made it 1-1, gave Panama a 2-1 lead 13 minutes later.
Blas Perez assisted on the goal by heading Gabriel Gomez's crossing pass to Torres, who kept the ball from touching the ground and used his right foot to beat goalkeeper Odelin Molina on the right side from 8 yards.
Torres has five goals in four Gold Cup games. He scored twice in Panama's 2-1 group stage win over Mexico.
Cuba played a man down and gave up four goals in the last 32 minutes after Ariel Martinez was given a red card for a hard foul against Perez.
"I don't think it merited a red card," Cuba coach Walter Benitez said. "It was unexpected."
With Martinez gone from the game, Cuba gave up a flurry of goals.
Carlos Rodriguez put Panama ahead 3-1 in the 68th minute from 12 yards.
Perez added a breakaway goal in the 77th minute to make it 4-1, Jairo Jimenez scored in the 85th minute and Perez again in the 86th.
Losing Martinez was a big blow to Cuba considering that he scored three goals in a 4-0 win over Belize earlier this week.
The Cubans, who have lost 13 of their past 15 Gold Cup games, led 1-0 in the 21st minute when Jose Ciprian's right-footed kick from the center of the box beat goalie Jamie Pendo to the right side.
Panama has allowed one goal or none in eight straight Gold Cup games. The Panamanians lost to the U.S. in the semifinals two years ago.
Valdes liked how Perez, who missed the win over Mexico to fulfill his Major League Soccer obligation to FC Dallas, was active throughout the afternoon with two goals and an assist. It marked Perez's first goals in three tournament games.
"As a forward, he always wants to be accompanied with goals," Valdes said. "We saw today the Blas of always, working very well on the field."
Though Panama's past four goals came against an outmanned opponent, Valdes was pleased that his team kept attacking to put Cuba away.
"It's not easy to score six goals, including that we could've scored another one, but there are things early that we must improve," Valdes said. "Early in the game, there was too much overconfidence, and we have to be serious when the other team is trying to demonstrate that they are superior."
Notes: Panama improved to 10-4-4 in all competitions. ... This tournament marks Panama's second straight Goal Cup with no losses in the group stage and quarterfinals. ... Cuba was playing a Gold Cup knockout game for the second time and first since 2003.