Mexico advanced to the Gold Cup final Wednesday after a controversial penalty kick goal that had Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez saying his team was robbed of a rightful victory.
Mexican captain Andres Guardado scored on stoppage time penalty kicks after the 90th and 105th minutes to give his team a 2-1 extra-time triumph over 10-man Panama in a Gold Cup semi-final before a sellout crowd of more than 70,000 at the Georgia Dome.
"This is a big robbery," Gomez said. "It was robbery at gunpoint. It`s a very sad thing to say. We were robbed."
The Mexicans, who also needed a Guardado penalty kick goal after a controversial foul call beyond the 120th minute to beat Costa Rica 1-0 in the quarter-final, will face Jamaica on Sunday in Philadelphia in the title match of the biennial North American regional football championship. The "Reggae Boyz" shocked the United States 2-1 in the day`s other semi-final.
Gomez was angry at US referee Mark Geiger for ejecting Panama striker Luis Tejada in the 25th minute, but saw the Caneleros take a 1-0 lead on a header by captain Roman Torres in the 57th minute.
On the verge of an emotional triumph in the 89th minute, Torres was whistled for a hand ball violation in the penalty area, falling onto the ball after contact with a Mexico forward.
"The referee was not good," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. "The first penalty, it wasn`t a penalty, but sometimes it`s controversial and it goes in your favor. It`s not our team. It`s the referee."
A two-team confrontation followed as Panama players argued Geiger`s call. Both teams followed him to the sidelines to plead their cases and tensions reached a boiling point with shoving and grabbing as spectators hurled food and garbage at players and officials.
"The referee made a monumental error and all this great effort was thrown away because of this," Gomez said. "We have to make sure this doesn`t happen again."
Calm was eventually restored, but the extended mess took so long that by the time Guardado left-footed his first penalty kick into the bottom right corner to equalize, it was the 10th minute of stoppage time.
"At moments during the match, I thought of retiring. This situation makes you think you want to retire," Gomez said.
"The players didn`t want to continue. We were very competitive with 10 players. Panama played a perfect game. That`s why we want to continue despite this disappointment.
"I`ve been coaching since `87 and it`s the first time this has happened to me. It`s very difficult."
Guardado became the hero after Panama`s Herold Cummings fouled Mexico`s Javier Orozco in the penalty area near the end of the first of two extra 150-minute sessions. Guardado left-footed a blast into the left corner.
At the final whistle, two Panama players raced from the sidelines onto the field, chasing referee Geiger, before being restrained by teammates. The referee exited the field surrounded by a tight ring of police and security guards."This is out of the hands of the coaches and players. When you do like this you can do a lot of damage," Gomez said. "This can`t happen in the 89th minute of the semi-final. It disgraces the tournament. The final loses beauty, spectacle."
"I don`t know where it comes from. I ask myself why does this happen? I don`t know. Why? Why? It`s very sad."
Herrera defended himself and his team as well, saying, "I`m not a thief. It was not our team. It was not our players."
The biggest first-half headache came when Tejada was issued a red card. He complained and argued as teammates steered him slowly off the pitch, where he yelled back as he was walking off, sparking fans to hurl items at him. Only after Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa escorted him to the tunnel did the barrage cease.