Tonight, at 9 p.m. CDT at the Death Star, Mexico will take on Panama in the "grudge match that isn't a grudge match". At least that's what Chepo de la Torre would have you believe.
Cowboys stadium will no doubt be full of loud Mexico supporters, filling the entire building with an energy that is definitely not seen in Cowboys games. While the Panama contingent will be microscopically small by comparison, they will definitely add their voices to what should be a very exciting vibe.
Readers of Big D Soccer tend to be very knowledgeable, so we will gloss over the basics of the significance of the semi-finals, and will instead focus on the delicious story that will be on display tonight.
Mexico: Salvaging Pride
Mexico lost to Panama in the group stage of the Gold Cup. On its own, this would be quite embarrassing enough for any Mexico fans, but that loss in particular was especially embarrassing. Mexico has been very, very disappointing of late, having been quite terrible for the majority of 2013. The team that many expected to steamroll through CONCACAF WC qualifying has done nothing of the sort, and have not yet recorded a win in their entire campaign.
However, the Gold Cup was when they were supposed to get their act together and slap some smaller teams around on their inevitable march to the final. They would slash and burn, plunder gold and steal other nations' women, and generally assert their dominance over the rest of CONCACAF.
That hasn't happened either. Sure, they're at the semi-final stage of the tournament, but that isn't much of an achievement. Mexico needs to make the final to salvage whatever broken little pieces remain of their pride. But their opponent is Panama, and as we already stated, they have lost to Panama in this tournament already. It isn't much of a stretch to say they could lose again.
Even when attempting to be completely neutral, it's still easy to claim that Mexico has been pretty insipid during this edition of the Gold Cup. They allowed Martinique to score a goal. That really should never happen when your team has Mexico's roster.
Will revenge be a factor?
"No, it's just another game" says Chepo.
Panama: La Marea Roja de Sangre y Furia
Our beloved hero, Blas Pérez, and the rest of the Canalero Cavalry will take the field in the hopes of making it to the final. Panama is a country that does not see much soccer glory at all, but they have made a real go of this tournament. They have picked up quite a few neutral fans for their performance. They might not be the prettiest team at times, but Blas is fun to watch, and any team that shoves Mexico in front of a speeding train is a team that USMNT fans can get behind.
Panama's manager, Julio Dely Valdés, told the media that it will be a furious effort from Panama, and that even should they be winning 6-1, his team can't take their foot off the gas. He mentioned that he saw some lazy, lax play against Cuba and that he railed against his players for what he considered taking results for granted. I doubt that motivation against Mexico will be lacking in this squad though.
The Panamanian media is well and truly excited for the match, and the hype on their national news sites is obvious. This is a team that has their entire nation behind them, with nothing less than 100% support, which is more than the Mexican team can claim.
At the start of the Gold Cup I would have said Mexico easily wins this matchup. Now, I'm not so sure.
For Blas' sake, I hope Panama wins. Hopefully with a Super Ratón hat trick as part of their victory.
My real prediction I will hide for fear of jinxing the outcome.