Mexico lurched from game to game in this 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup , trying to find its rhythm. It focused on incremental growth and searched for the monumental leap forward required to retain its title.
Time simply ran out. Panama made sure of it before Mexico could even reach the final. El Tri's tormentors at the start of the tournament ultimately ushered them out of the competition with a 2-1 victory in Arlington, Tex. on Wednesday night.
Roman Torres headed home the decisive goal just after the hour mark to send Mexico crashing out at the semifinal stage for the first time since 1991. It proved no less than Mexico deserved on the night and no more than Panama warranted after another wonderful display against their Central American counterparts.
Most of Jose Manuel de la Torre's players promised a different match this time around, but the early stages of this affair looked all too much like the 2-1 defeat at the Rose Bowl. Panama started the better of the two sides and stunned El Tri by nicking an early goal.
The opener constituted a self-inflicted wound after some shoddy Mexican work out of the back. Jonathan Orozco played a goal kick short. Joel Huiqui shuttled the ball to Alejandro Castro. Alberto Quintero hassled Castro out of the ball in the attacking third to create a chance. He combined with Blas Perez and then played Perez through to lash home the opener.
Perez's initial blow sparked Mexico out of its stupor temporarily. Marco Fabian fluttered around in a bid to engineer the equalizer and eventually played a critical role in procuring it after 26 minutes.
It came as no surprise when El Tri's two outstanding performers in the tournament - Fabian and Luis Montes - restored parity. Fabian exploited his advantage over Leonel Parris and wriggled free on the left side of the penalty area. He clipped a cross toward the back post and Montes finished off the move with a diving header.
Montes' goal should have urged Mexico go on and claim a second, but Panama instead kept its resolve and maintained its foothold in the game through the break. The expected flurry from El Tri after the interval never materialized, paving the way for the winner from Roman Torres just after the hour mark.
Gabriel Torres served an enticing corner kick toward the back post. Roman Torres ran across Huiqui and then tucked his header into the net to restore the advantage and spark plenty of worry within the partisan crowd at Cowboys Stadium.
Mexico pushed ardently in the final stages in a bid to procure the goal required to force extra time. It piled players into the attacking half and threw Javier Orozco into the mix to offer a target presence up front.
Orozco helped to create the best chance in the waning changes by challenging for a long lump up field. The ball flicked through to fellow substitute Isaac Brizuela behind the Panamanian line. Brizuela attempted to chip over the onrushing Jamie Penedo, but he somehow managed to deflect the effort over the bar.
It proved as close as Mexico would come during a frantic final period. El Tri pushed and pushed, but it could not break the Panamanian resistance or prevent Juilo Dely Valdes' side from booking its first trip to the final since 2005.