The game lacked flow, at times lacked quality, and certainly lacked grace, but Guillermo Ochoa produced his own brilliant signature moment when it mattered to send Mexico to the Gold Cup semifinals with a 5-4 penalty shootout victory over Costa Rica after a 1-1 draw.
A game that featured 46 fouls and 12 yellow cards was ended abruptly as Ochoa guessed correctly on Keysher Fuller’s penalty, diving down low to his right and extending his right arm fully to reach the effort and palm it away to seal victory, peeling away in jubilant celebration.
The game was choppy until just before halftime when Mexico went in front on a 41st minute turn-and-shoot from Raul Jimenez whose initial shot was stonewalled by Oscar Duarte but he stuck with it and fired Mexico in front.
Mexico’s lead wouldn’t last long after the break as Costa Rica pulled back level in the 52nd minute when Joel Campbell latched onto a long ball forward having broken between two defenders. On the charge forward, Luis Rodriguez clipped Campbell’s foot just as he went to shoot, and the referee pointed to the spot. Bryan Ruiz cooly buried his penalty with a soft poke left that saw Ochoa wrong-footed and brought Costa Rica even at 1-1.
Overall, the teams put together 37 shots but could only see 10 of them find the target. The fouling was the story of the match, and between all the cautions handed out even the coaches were given cards. Mexico was the more vicious attacking team looking to win the match in regulation, and Costa Rica goalkeeper Leonel Moreira was required to make a spectacular save in the 58th minute on a long-distance effort by Jimenez looking for his second. With just five minutes to go, Mexico again came close as they worked the ball into the box from the left flank and again Moreira was there to leap and tip a shot by Carlos Rodriguez off the crossbar and out.
Ochoa came alive in extra-time, first diving low to his left to stop a 108th minute Jonathan McDonald slicer before his penalty shootout heroics. Mexico went behind straight away as Jimenez’s poor effort was saved by Moreira on the very first penalty of the shootout. It stayed that way until at 2-2 Randall Leal ripped his spot-kick wide. That set up Ochoa for his moment with the score at 5-4 and Fuller at the spot, sending Mexico through and ripping out Costa Rica hearts.
Mexico will meet Haiti in the semifinals after the comeback victory against Canada continued Haiti’s dream run through this tournament. For Costa Rica, it becomes the third Gold Cup in their last four where they have been eliminated in the quarterfinal stage, a disappointing haul for a team with consistent World Cup aspirations.