The semi-final wins could not have come in more contrasting style. The USA won against Honduras, 2-0 in a straightforward win with very little drama and little flourish. On the other hand, the Mexico vs Costa Rica encounter had to be settled through penalty kicks. The match itself was full of strange twists and turns with some flashes of brilliance from both teams.
Stuart Holden again came up big setting up both goals. Clarence Goodson heading in a corner taken by Holden just before half time. Santino Quaranta's introduction in the second half for Robbie Rodgers and Holden's switch to the left flank made a difference in the attacking tempo. Through one of these forays, Holden managed to pass the ball to Kenny Cooper who further enhanced his reputation as a super sub by coolly finishing of the chance. The Hondurans briefly threatened through Walter Martinez, easily their best scoring threat but he was inexplicably replaced in the second half. The back four led by Chad Marshall took care of the rest. The US was competent and compact without being brilliant and it was enough to get the job done.
Mexico's Giovanni Dos Santos was easily the pick of the players. Possessing great speed and a low center of gravity he was able to whip past the Ticos at will and provided at least three opportunities for others to score. In between there were a number of free kicks that the Ticos gave up fouling him. He came closest to scoring when he narrowly failed to head a ball with Medina's cross glancing past his forehead harmlessly.
The match could have been won when Medina's speculative cross strangely hit Freddy Fernandez's hand after it appeared that the defender had lost track of the ball and the referee with no hesitation pointed to the penalty spot. Up stepped Miguel Sabah, the Cup's leading scorer. But he flubbed the PK shooting it weakly straight to Keylor Navas.
Mario Carillo, the assistant coach taking over for the suspended Javier Aguirre introduced Guillermo Franco taking of the ineffective Sabah and the rangy striker proved a serendipitous sub as he volleyed home a shot just before full time after the Ticos failed to clear a corner properly. There was a two minutes left in regulation time and it appeared Mexico was through.
But just as El Tri were celebrating prematurely, Alvaro Saborio's header fell between Ochoa and Magallon and Froylan Ledezma who had come on for Alonso quick as a flash burst through and before either one of them could react placed the ball coolly into the back of the net with his left foot. It was the 91st minute. And the match was heading to extra time but not before Arsenal's Carlos Vela was introduced in the 81st minute. He had at least one clearcut opportunity to finish of the match but was unable to time his volley well off a Dos Santos cross.
Extra time ended with both teams deadlocked and it was left to PKs. Mexico kept its cool and converted each penalty while Ledezma responsible for Costa Rica's last minute heroics muffed his chance. It was left to Carlos Vela to seal the 5-3 verdict in favour of Mexico.
Some thoughts: Mexican football is not in need of resuscitation, in fact, far from it, it appears to be the most exciting team to watch because of the brilliant form of Dos Santos. The Spurs sign up from Barca has seen little action in the Premiership and was shipped to Ipswich Town on loan. He had fallen off the radar but his creative and attacking instincts appear better than before. He will be a handful for the USA to deal with in the finals. The praise that El Tri get for playing an attacking style should be tempered with the criticism that they still remain horribly poor in finishing off their chances. That ultimately may prove to be the crucial difference between the USA and their team.