CHICAGO (AP) – Mexico is determined to win the Gold Cup, regardless of how many players it has on its roster.
The defending champions were left with 17 players after goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, defenders Francisco Rodriguez and Edgar Duenas, and midfielders Christian Bermudez and Antonio Naelson ''Sinha'' were removed from the team Thursday after testing positive for clenbuterol. The Mexican federation has asked to replace the players, but CONCACAF officials say they need more information on the tests before they can make a decision.
Mexico is blaming the positive tests, which occurred during a pre-tournament training camp on the outskirts of Mexico City, on contaminated meat. Tour de France champion Alberto Contador also has blamed contaminated beef for his positive test for clenbuterol last July.
''It's a very unfortunate situation, but we need to look forward,'' Mexico star Javier ''Chicharito'' Hernandez said Saturday after his team trained at Soldier Field, site of Sunday's game against Costa Rica. ''Right now, the most important thing is Costa Rica.''
El Tri is already assured of reaching the quarterfinals after 5-0 routs of El Salvador and Cuba in its first two group games. With six points, Mexico is two points ahead of Costa Rica, and five ahead of El Salvador. Cuba has no points. El Salvador and Cuba play in the first game of the doubleheader Sunday.
But the tournament will get tougher from here, and a thin bench would put Mexico at a severe disadvantage. Teams were able to bring 23 players to the Gold Cup and dress 18 for each match. Mexico had already sent Ricardo Osorio home with an illness.
''It's what I have, so I have to work with it,'' Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said. ''That's still the objective, winning the Gold Cup.''
The winner of the Gold Cup gets a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup, an important World Cup warmup tournament.
Hector Gonzalez Inarritu, Mexico's team director, said he doubts the five suspended players would be able to return during the Gold Cup, but the federation remains hopeful CONCACAF will allow it to bring in replacements. Gonzalez Inarritu said the federation is gathering evidence on the tests, including the levels of drugs in the players' urine samples. The five players also underwent additional testing Friday in Los Angeles.
Mexico plans to turn all of that information over to CONCACAF officials on Monday, though it hopes to have a decision on replacement players before that.
''We have to demonstrate (the suspended players) didn't do anything wrong,'' Gonzalez Inarritu said. ''The more evidence we have, the stronger our defense will be.''
While Chicharito and de la Torre said they feel for the suspended players, they have to keep their focus on the field.
''We're here and we're focused on the tournament,'' de la Torre said.