San Diego (AFP) – Mexico launched their CONCACAF Gold Cup title defense with a comfortable 3-1 victory over El Salvador in their Group C opener on Sunday.
A young Mexico side aiming to capture an eighth Gold Cup crown took the first step with goals from Hedgardo Marin, Elias Hernandez and Orbelin Pineda.
Mexico are without the regulars who competed at the Confederations Cup in Russia last month.
And manager Juan Carlos Osorio could only watch from a hospitality suite at Qualcomm Stadium as he serves a six-game ban for an outburst directed at Confederations Cup officials.
Colombian Luis Pompilio Paez directed the team from the sideline, and the inexperienced side rose to the challenge offered by a tenacious El Salvador, who responded to Marin’s eighth-minute header of a free kick with Nelson Bonilla’s goal in the 10th.
Hernandez put Mexico ahead again before halftime with a ferocious strike in the 29th.
Gallardo lofted a cross from the right and found Hernandez, who turned slightly and rifled a shot past Benji Villalobos.
Substitute Orbelin Pineda stretched Mexico’s lead in the 55th. Hernandez fired in a cross from the right and an advancing Villalobos missed it. Pineda, racing toward the left post, tapped the ball toward the open net and it squeezed inside the right post.
“To start with a win is very important,” Paez said. “It gives the group a lot of confidence, and it’s easier to correct defects by wining than by losing.
“Our Achilles’ heel was the defense in the first half, but we made adjustments and things were solved,” he added.
Paez had not yet spoken with Osorio immediately after the game. Under the suspension handed down by FIFA, the coach is not allowed to enter the locker room.
“Surely he suffered a lot more up there than down here,” Paez said of Osorio’s enforced vantage point away from the team. “But I’m sure he’s happy.”
With the win, Mexico stretched their unbeaten run against El Salvador to seven games, a streak that dates back to 2009.
On Thursday they’ll take on Jamaica, the team they beat in the 2015 final, in Denver.
The Reggae Boyz overcame a sluggish first half to beat Curacao 2-0 in the first match of the day’s double-header.
Romario Williams in the 58th minute and Darren Mattocks in the 73rd, gave the Reggae Boyz three points and a measure of revenge for their 2-1 defeat to Curacao in the June 25 final of the Caribbean Cup.
Keeper Andre Blake kept Jamaica in the contest with several fine saves before Williams opened the scoring with an awkwardly angled shot that found its way inside the near post.
Substitute Mattocks sealed the win with a sharp left-footed blast past Curacao keeper Eloy Room into the roof of the net.