Arsenal’s Carlos Vela converted the decisive spot kick as Mexico needed a penalty shootout to advance past Costa Rica and into the final of CONCACAF’s Gold Cup, where they’ll face the United States on Sunday.
The only remaining first-team Gunner yet to join Arsenal’s training camp this preseason, Vela has returned to action for his country after suffering a slight injury in Mexico’s opening game of the Gold Cup, the biennial nations championship for the FIFA region comprising North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Entering last night’s semifinal late in regulation, Vela had a strike on goal early in the opening minutes of the extra period, but the ball deflected wide and neither team was able to find the back of the net in the additional 30 minutes.
Costa Rica’s Froylan Ledezma, who had scored a 90th minute equalizer to send the match into extra time, was the only player to miss his penalty in the shootout, as Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa (an Arsenal transfer target not long ago) made a superb save.
The 20-year-old Vela calmly stepped up as Mexico’s final shot taker to slot his penalty home and provide the 5-3 difference in penalties, giving Mexico a chance to revenge its loss to the U.S. in the Gold Cup final two years ago.
The win means that Vela will not travel in the coming days to Austria, where Arsenal has set up its training base for a stretch of friendly matches with European clubs.
Gunners captain Cesc Fabregas was among the latest to join up with teammates there, entering camp on Monday but not taking part in Tuesday’s 7-1 win over SC Columbia.
Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs were allowed extra time off due to their own international commitments earlier in the summer. The earliest they’ll see action is next week, when Arsenal face Szombathelyi Haladas in Hungary on Monday (July 27) and Hannover 96 in Germany on Wednesday (July 29).