Mexico 1-0 Costa Rica: Questionable penalty in the 120th minute sends El Tri through to Gold Cup semis

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After 120 minutes of scoreless soccer between Mexico and Costa Rica, the referee decided Mexico should score.

El Tri had been pressing all game but couldn’t find the back of the net until the last tick of the clock, when referee Walter Lopez called a mystery penalty on Costa Rica. Andres Guardado buried the shot and Mexico will now face Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals.

The attendance was announced at 74,187 at MetLife Stadium tonight, and while all enjoyed a fantastic match, Costa Rican fans will leave feeling robbed.

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The first match of the day started slowly, but the nightcap was the exact opposite. Both Mexico and Costa Rica came out flying, with end-to-end action as both sides created chances.

With such a quick pace, both goalkeepers had to stay on their toes to keep the match scoreless. First, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa backtracked to get his fingertips to a curling ball headed for the top corner. Not to be outdone, Costa Rica’s Esteban Alvarado made a strong save on a long-range strike from Andres Guardado to keep things level.

Mexico could have taken the lead just before halftime, but Oribe Peralta’s shot was deflected just over the bar by a sliding defender as the teams went into the break deadlocked in a scoreless draw.

[ RECAP: Panama outlasts Trinidad & Tobago in shootout to earn a berth in the Gold Cup semis ]

Peralta should have put El Tri ahead right after the break in the 51st minute. Carlos Vela headed a ball through to Peralta who beat Alvarado with his shot, only to be rejected by the post.

Alvarado was called on again in the 64th minute and made the save of the match, this time on Carlos Esquivel. Esquivel jumped to get a foot on a cross from Andres Guardado, and as Alvarado was moving across to the left, he reached out with his right hand, somehow tipping the shot off the crossbar.

Mexico controlled the second half and had multiple chances to find a goal, but a combination of strong play by Alvarado and brutal finishing by El Tri meant fans at MetLife Stadium got more extra-time Gold Cup action.

Extra-time was more of Mexico, but the best chance came for Costa Rica from Joel Campbell. After a forgettable first 109 minutes, the Arsenal striker came out of nowhere with a ridiculous run down the left, cutting by defenders as they tried to drag him down. He finally got a shot off, forcing Guillermo Ochoa to make a massive one-handed stop. The referee’s flag was up which would have cancelled out the goal had it gone in, but a brilliant individual effort nonetheless.

Then as the clock struck 120 with another shootout looming, referee Walter Lopez called a ghost penalty on Roy Miller for “bringing down” Oribe Peralta. The Costa Rican team went wild as the call was in essence, a disgrace. Peralta, in fact, escaped a red card earlier in extra-time for a wild tackle at midfield, somehow seeing just yellow. Andres Guardado converted the penalty as El Tri move on to the semis. A brutal loss for Costa Rica.