The likeliest of suspects in Mexico faces a pre-tournament longshot in Panama in the 17th edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which will mark the end of the three-week tournament that has been played in various venues across the United States (plus Toronto).
Here is what you need to know.
When is the Gold Cup on TV?
The final is set for SoFi Stadium, the home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time Sunday. The English broadcast will be on FOX, the Spanish language broadcast on TUDN.
What is the Gold Cup?
This is the championship of CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football), so basically the championship of North America. After several rounds of qualifying the field was narrowed to 15 CONCACAF teams plus Qatar, who were invited.
After three group-stage games, eight teams were taken to the quarterfinals with Mexico and Panama winning both their knockout (single-elimination) games to make the finals.
This every-other-year tournament played on odd-numbered years, typically is the biggest tournament of the year for CONCACAF teams and in past years was a qualifier for the Confederations Cup, which no longer exists. But the United States clearly put a priority this year on the Nations League, a fairly new club competition that wrapped up two weeks before the Gold Cup.
How did they get here?
Mexico came in in a bad spot, firing coach Diego Cocca on the eve of the tournament after an embarrassing showing in the Nations League and naming Jaime Lozano as interim.
In contrast to the US, which seemed to blow off this tournament with a ragtag roster and ultimately predictable results, Mexico has used it to whip their struggling team into shape and it has worked.
El Tri dominated the first two games of this tournament to win their group, then played their best game Wednesday in a 3-0 semifinal rout of a Jamaica team that had looked like the class of the field until being completely outgunned by Mexico. If Mexico wins this as heavy favorites does Lozano get the job full-time? He’s made a case.
Panama has also been fantastic, outplaying the US in its semifinal before eventually winning on penalties. They won possession in that game and have been noted for their on-field organization throughout the tournament. Before beating the US they won their group with two quick wins and in the quarterfinals blew out a Qatar team 4-0 that was coming off a victory over Mexico.
This is Panama’s second Gold Cup final and first since 2013.
How is it expected to go?
Despite Panama’s good run of play, Mexico is a heavy favorite, opening at -185 on the books (bet $185 to win $100). Panama is at +500 (bet $100 to win $500), while if it goes to penalties the draw pays +260 (bet $100 to win $260).
Why is that? Panama has never won this championship; Mexico has won it nine times. Mexico is 17-2-6 all-time against Panama, outscoring it 45-15, and has gone 11-0-3 since losing to Panama in the 2013 semifinals.