• Friday Dec 23, 2011

    Golden Generation going platinum

    By Ivan Orozco

    The "Golden Generation" appears to be going platinum.

    After bursting onto the scene in 2005 by seizing the U-17 World Cup, Mexico's auric agers have begun shining on the senior level, winning a second Gold Cup in three years in 2011.

    Led by 2009 returnees Pablo Barrera, Giovanni Dos Santos and Efrain Juarez and joined by Hector Moreno and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, El Tri dominated the field, allowing only two goals in its first five games and then rallying from an early deficit to thrash the United States in the final.

    It all led to a wild scene at midfield of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in June, with players hugging and smiling in a downpour of confetti shot from cannons before a capacity, partisan crowd.

    The title came despite suspending five players before their second match for a positive test for a banned substance at a pre-tournament training camp: starting goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, Edgar Duenas, Christian Bermudez and Antonio Nealson, Francisco Javier "Maza" Rodriguez.

    Mexico eventually was allowed to replace the quintet, just before the semifinals, but it didn't make much of a difference.

    Manager Jose Manuel de la Torre's squad didn't lose momentum without the suspended players, winning all six matches by a combined 22-4.

    About the only detour in the march to the title came during the first 20 minutes of the final. The United States jumped out to a 2-0 early lead. The Americans appeared to be heading to an upset win against "the giant."

    But De la Torre's team scored four unanswered goals and virtually dominated in the second half to seal the win.

    Mexico's speed overwhelmed the United States, whose players called it a humiliating loss and eventually cost manager Bob Bradley his job a month later.

    The match featured perhaps the tournament's best goal when Mexico midfielder dos Santos dribbled the ball inside the penalty box alluding a crawling United States goalkeeper Tim Howard. Santos kept the ball out of Howard's reach then volleyed a bending, arching shot into the net from about 17 meters.

    "It was a nice goal," Howard said.

    There was noting nice about the loss Bradley, who was replaced after five years by former German national team player and manager Juergen Klinsmann.

    The United States reached the final, too, but not before losing its first group game at the Gold Cup in history. The Americans lost 2-1 to Panama, ending their 26-game unbeaten streak and starting the calls for Bradley's ouster.

    The win sent Panama into the quarterfinals where it squeezed past El Salvador on penalty kicks, and then a rematch with the United States, which avenged its earlier loss with a 1-0 win on Clint Dempsey's second-half goal.

    Panama had a shot at changing the dynamic of the Gold Cup, trying to become the first team other than the Americans or Mexico to reach the title match since 2005, when Panama achieved it before falling on penalties to the United States.

    Honduras also harbored visions of a title chance, forcing Mexico to extra time in the semifinals before eventually succumbing 2-0.

    Costa Rica under the head coach Ricardo Lavolpe went into the tournament as a considerable threat. Honduras got in its way and lost to "Los Catrachos" in the quarterfinals, sending the Ticos home early.

    And they went home to tragic news.

    A few days after losing to Honduras, midfielder Dennis Marshall and his girlfriend were killed in a car crash. The Associated Press quoted the Red Cross saying Marshall died when his vehicle collided in a head-on with a truck in a mountainous region near the capital of San Jose.

    The 25-year-old member of Danish club AaB Aalborg had returned to Costa Rica after his goal in the 56th minute against Honduras tied the match and eventually sent the game into penalties, where Honduras prevailed 4-2.

    The sorrowful development, however, didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the overwhelmingly partisan Mexican crowd of 93,420 at the final, a tally that pushed the total attendance to a record of more than 600,000.

    It was a sixth title for Mexico at the Gold Cup, with a promise of more to come.

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