For an organization suffering from an image problem in the aftermath of bribery scandals involving its past two administrations, things could hardly get any worse for Concacaf. But Wednesday's
Mexico-Panama match in the Gold Cup semifinals was a new low on the field. El Tri won, 2-1, in a chaotic match that was marred by repeated crowd trouble and turned in its favor on a controversial
penalty kick awarded by American Mark Geiger in the 89th minute.
For the second game in a row, Mexico advanced thanks to a controversial penalty decision issued by an
American. El Tri beat Costa Rica, 1-0, in the quarterfinals when Andres Guardado scored from the penalty spot in the 122nd minute. The penalty was awarded after
Oribe Peralta dived in the area but was ruled to have been fouled by Roy Miller by assistant referee Eric Boria.
On Wednesday, short-handed Panama was minutes away from beating Mexico when El Tri was again awarded a penalty kick. After attempting to
clear a ball, Panamanian defender Roman Torres -- the Canaleros' goal scorer -- appeared to be tripped and fell to ground, where he landed on the ball.
Geiger pointed to the spot, but it took almost 10 minutes for order to be restored as the Panamanians protested the decision, tussled with their opponents and scattered their dugout after being
pelted with objects from fans behind them in the stands at Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Guardado scored to send the game into overtime, where he won the game with yet another penalty kick, this one without
2. Canaleros feel aggrieved by Geiger's decision.
After Costa Rica lost to Mexico on Sunday, Ticos coach Paulo Wanchope would not blame Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez and Boria for his team's exit. Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez was not so kind. The Colombian said the call on the first penalty was the worst he'd seen in 28 years of coaching and made him think of retiring.
"If it was up to me," he said, "I could say, 'I do not want to continue in soccer anymore.' Because that was horrible. It was an utter robbery."
Tejada, who was sent off in the 25th minute for a high elbow in a challenge with Mexican defender Maza Rodriguez, said the fair thing would have been for
Guardado to have missed his penalty kick and given the game to Panama.
There was little doubt that Mexico was the better team against Costa Rica, but even with a man advantage most of the
game it struggled against Panama, which took the lead when Torres scored on a header in the 57th minute. Two years earlier, Torres' goal had given Panama a 2-1 win over Mexico in the Gold Cup
semifinals. This time, the Canaleros could not hold on.
The Gold Cup was marred by organizational issues early in the 1990s, but it has never had a
game quite like Mexico-Panama. There have been incidents of crowd trouble before but nothing quite like Wednesday's game, which drew a crowd of 70,511 at the Georgia Dome. After the game ended, the
Panamanians stormed Geiger and his refereeing crew, but thankfully cooler heads prevailed -- thanks in part to Torres' intervention -- and there was no serious trouble on the field.
organization, Concacaf will have to take a hard look at how it runs the tournament. One cannot see how a sponsor could have watched images of what happened on Wednesday night and want to have anything
to do with the event.
Wednesday's incidents will force heightened security for Sunday's Mexico-Jamaica final in Philadelphia. If there is a repeat of the trouble in Atlanta, Concacaf may
have to rethink plans for the Oct. 9 playoff between the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup winners to decide the Concacaf representative in the 2017 Confederations Cup. If it's USA-Mexico, the likely venue is
the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
With a gate of more than 90,000 fans, Concacaf could use a big payday. Unfortunately, it doesn't need another black eye.
July 22 in Atlanta Mexico 2 Panama 1. Goals: Guardado 90+10, 105; R.Torres 57. Mexico -- Ochoa, Aguilar, Reyes,
Rodriguez, Alanis (Esquivel, 46), Layun (Orozco, 77), H.Herrera (J.Corona, 59), J. Dos Santos, Guardado, Peralta, Vela. Panama -- Penedo, Machado, R.
Torres, Cummings, Davis, Pimentel (Henrique, 87; Stephens, 109), Cooper, Godoy, Quintero, Tejada, Nurse (Molinar, 79). Yellow Cards: Mexico -- Vela 4,
H.Herrera 55, Aguilar 90+13, Orozco 95; Panama -- Godoy 28, Nurse 79, Pimentel 82, Machado 89, Cooper 90+11, R.Torres 104, Cummings 108. Red Card: Panama
-- Tejada 25. Referee: Mark Geiger (USA). Att.: 70,511.