It was one of the most disgraceful displays of refereeing in a long, long while. The American and former World Cup referee, Mark Geiger, would ultimately hand out a first-half red card, 11 yellow cards, and two controversial penalties in Mexico's favor while he allowed the match to descend into chaotic scenes. In the end, Mexico would advance to the Gold Cup Final on the back of those two penalties, sending a gritty Panamanian team to a third place date with the United States.
Mexico found their way to the Gold Cup semifinals thanks to a ghastly call during Extra Time stoppage against Costa Rica. Gifted an incorrect penalty, they converted and snuffed out any chance that Los Ticos could redeem themselves. Tonight, they faced Panama - a team that defeated them (twice) in the 2013 Gold Cup, including a 2-1 Semifinal victory.
Mexico, to this point, had not been particularly great in their group matches, finishing second in Group C to Trinidad and Tobago. Gifted a pathway to the semifinal, they faced a Panama team that had somehow made it this far after 1-1 draws against every one of their opponents (they beat Trinidad and Tobago in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks).
This match can only be described as pure, unfiltered CONCACAF.
It began in the 24th minute. Panama's Luis Tejada leaped for an aerial challenge against Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez. Tejada's forearm makes contact with Rodriguez's face but the intent isn't clear. The action was controversial, the result absolutely clear - Mark Geiger decided it was red card-worthy and Tejada was sent off following a couple minutes of protest. This was perhaps the most most uplifting action of the match.
The first goal came in the 56th minute from Panama when, down a man, Roman Torres put a head on the ball to give them an improbable lead. Huddled by the corner flag in celebration, they were pelted by countless bottles, cups of beer, and anything the crowd could grasp within reach.
And so it looked like Panama might manage their third consecutive Gold Cup victory against Mexico. But a red card was not Mark Geiger's last action of the night.
The 89th minute. Panama remains up a goal and is headed for their second consecutive Gold Cup Final. Mexico sends a cross into the box to find Carlos Esquivel. Panamanian captain Roman Torres launches into an overhead kick and clears the ball straight up. As the ball falls, he fails to regain his balance and looks to aim to fall on the ball, snuffing out a rebound chance. He lands on the ball, ribs-first, and his elbow touches the ball in the ensuing fall.
Geiger whistled a handball and granted Mexico a penalty. The match descended into chaos for ten minutes. Benches cleared with players and fans throwing bottles. Players pushed and jabbed Mark Geiger at midfield. Torres plead with Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera. Unimas commentators demanded that Panama leave the field in protest.
Finally, nine minutes into stoppage, Andres Guardado stepped to the spot and converted past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
Extra Time was much of the same. Panama, despite the late match events, continued to pressure and found themselves close to retaking the lead. Then, it happened again.
In the 103rd minute, Mexico began to pressure Panama. Oribe Peralta chased a long ball into the box but Panama's Harold Cummings was there to clear it out. As Cummings cleared, Peralta kicked the back of his leg. It was a no-call and Mexico would retain the ball.
About forty seconds of continuous possession later, Jonathan Dos Santos stood near the center circle and tried to play Carlos Vela in the box. Vela redirected the pass to Javier Orozco. Both players were in offside positions when Dos Santos played the ball.
Orozco begins charging after the ball for a quick shot and is pushed in the back by Cummings. It's a clear penalty but one that never should have happened whether by the missed foul call on Peralta or the missed offside call - all of which took place within a minute.
Guardado would step up again for this penalty and nail it to send Mexico through by a score of 2-1.
Panama will play United States in the Third Place match on Saturday, July 25th at 3:00PM CDT in Philadelphia. Mexico will play Jamaica for the Gold Cup Final the following day on Sunday, July 26th at 6:30PM CDT. The winner of this match will play the United States in October for a shot at going to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. More details on that match at a later date.
Photo Credits: (1, 2, 5) Jason Getz/USA Today Sports; (3, 4) Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports