The scoring line was expected.
The dominance was expected.
But the pre-game headline was not.
Following the doping scandal that rocked the Mexican national team on Thursday afternoon, Mexico soundly defeated Cuba 5-0 and moved into sole possession of first place in Group A after their second Gold Cup match in Charlotte, N.C.
After initial reports surfaced that the Mexican football federation (Femexfut) suspended five players for testing positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, Mexican manager, Jose Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre, opted for an offensive 4-1-4-1 set with Rafael Marquez (New York Red Bulls) and Antonio Talavera (Toluca) starting for the suspended PSV Eindhoven defender Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez and popular goalkeeper Guillermo 'Memo' Ochoa (America) respectively.
Led by outstanding performances from Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos, Mexico overcame a slow start and were virtually too much for the Cuban side. El Tri eventually broke through with sophisticated play across the pitch and put the game out of reach with a three-goal flurry sixty minutes into the match.
Before the scintillating doping news hit the media scene, the pressure was on Mexico to defeat their first two opponents in El Salvador and Cuba. After Thursday night, El Tri finished its first two games with six points and a ten-goal differential cushion.
The Mexican attack up-front has been impressive to say the least. 'Chicharito' continued to show his world-class form and scored two more goals against Cuba to increase his scoring tally to five at the Gold Cup. Similarly, Dos Santos has been a terrific playmaker for El Tri at the moment and continues to be the true "10" in 'Chepo' de la Torre's offensive game plan.
Likewise, the Mexican defense and midfield have remained solid through the first two encounters. In consecutive games, the Mexican back line has not cracked under offensive attacks from opposing teams. Equally as impressive, Mexico's midfield has played in rhythm and have done well to recover and retain possession of the ball.
Until the investigation is complete, Mexico will be left with just 17 players for the duration of the Gold Cup tournament. In addition to Ochoa and Rodriguez, the Mexican federation also suspended defender Edgar Duenas (Toluca) and midfielders Christian 'Hobbit' Bermudez (Atlante) and Antonio Naelson Sinha (Toluca).
Hector Gonzalez Inarritu, Femexfut's national teams director, mentioned late Thursday night that the suspended players will travel to Los Angeles to be tested again for the banned substance in a certified laboratory at UCLA. Ideally for Mexico, the secondary tests will be used to complete the investigation process and clear the players of any wrongdoing. The effect that these suspensions and test results will have on the Mexican national team will remain to be seen.
What we do know however is that Mexico will need to focus their attention to the talented Costa Rican team on Sunday. Led by former Mexican national team coach, Ricardo Antonio La Volpe, Costa Rica will look to secure a spot for the second round and battle Mexico for the first overall spot in Group A.
Ticos Steal Late Draw Against El Salvador
In the other Group A game, Costa Rica captured an exciting stoppage time equalizer to salvage a point against El Salvador.
El Salvador's forward, Rodolfo Zelaya, scored a spectacular 30-yard free kick that initially gave El Salvador a 1-0 lead heading into halftime. El Salvador's suffocating defense and constant ball pressure frustrated the favorite Costa Rican side; so much so that Costa Rica was compelled to use star forward Bryan Ruiz in the second half.
Finally, much to the chagrin of the Salvadoran supporters, Costa Rica entered the scoring sheet when substitute midfielder Randal Brenes shot went past Salvadoran goalkeeper Miguel Montes in the 90th minute
Costa Rica was extremely fortunate to escape with a draw against the Cuscatlecos. Los Ticos did not show the same dominance that they did versus Cuba. Surely, La Volpe will try to correct the mistakes his Costa Rican side made against El Salvador in preparation for the much-anticipated match against Mexico on Sunday in Chicago's Soldier Field.
Charles Ventura is a freelancer writer contributing Mexican national team coverage to FOX Soccer. He also serves as an editor at Rojomania.com .