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Canada defender Richie Laryea attempts a shot on goal as Mexico goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera dives for the save during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer semi-final. Mexico won 2-1 on July 29, 2021, in Houston.

Michael Wyke/The Associated Press

Hector Herrera scored in the 99th minute Thursday to give Mexico a 2-1 win over Canada and a berth in the Gold Cup final against the U.S.

It was heartbreak in Houston for a Canadian side that, after trailing 1-0 at the break, turned it on in the second and gave as good as it got against the CONCACAF powerhouse. Canada deserved a better fate.

There were seven minutes of stoppage time given but that was extended after Canadian defender Alistair Johnston required treatment for a head knock. And so the game went on, with the Mexicans taking advantage.

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Canada failed to clear the ball after a late Mexican attack and eventually it went to Herrera at the edge of the crowded penalty box where he fired a left-footed shot home. The late goal touched off a melee between players as bad blood boiled over not for the first time on the evening.

Players from both side jostled as the officials struggled to regain control.

It was a game that saw emotions run high with Mexico awarded two penalties following video review, with Canadian goalkeeper Max Crepeau stopping the second penalty kick after Tajon Buchanan had scored to pull Canada even at 1-1.

Crepeau made a marvellous stop on Rodolfo Pizarro’s header in injury time to keep it tied.

Canada, ranked 70th in the world, came into the game as an underdog against the 11th-ranked Mexicans, who have treated the Gold Cup like their own over the years. But it’s a new-look Canada, which had won nine of 10 previous matches this year, under coach John Herdman.

“They’re expected to win. Let them carry the burden,” Herdman said before the game.

The contest was paused in the dying minutes of regulation time because of offensive chants from some quarters of the sellout crowd at NRG Stadium. The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Mexican, as demonstrated by the loud, enthusiastic rendition of the Mexican anthem before kickoff.

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The 20th-ranked Americans beat No. 58 Qatar 1-0 in an 85th-minute goal by Gyasi Zardes in the earlier semi-final at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas. Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, was a guest entry in the championship of the region covering North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The championship game is Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Mexico went ahead in first-half stoppage time on an Orbelin Pineda penalty. The Cruz Azul midfielder hesitated just before he launched his kick, freezing Crepeau before calmly slotting the ball into the corner.

The goal came after a wild passage of play.

The Mexican players were irate when Jamaican referee Daneon Parchment failed to point to the penalty spot after Jesus Corona, taking a fine through ball after Canada lost possession in midfield, went down as he tried to slice between defenders Doneil Henry and Johnston.

Seconds later, Edson Alvarez chopped down Canada’s Richie Laryea in front of the players bench and a full-blooded melee ensued with players from both sides getting involved. When the dust settled, Parchment pointed to the spot after the video review with Henry yellow-carded for taking Corona down.

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The Mexican players ran to midfielder Jonathan Dos Santos during their goal celebration. His father passed away earlier in the day.

Canada pulled even in the 57th minute on a fine individual effort by Buchanan, who has been the Canadians’ danger man for much of the tournament.

Mark-Anthony Kaye started the play, with a perfectly weighted long pass that found Buchanan alone on the flank. Hips swivelling through several stepovers, Buchanan turned defender Carlos Salcedo and beat goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera at the far post. Salcedo and the Mexicans had hoped the offside flag would go up but it stayed down as the 22-year-olf Buchanan celebrated his first senior goal for Canada in nine appearances.

A second penalty was awarded to Mexico after video review with Kaye judged to have fouled Corona in the corner of the Canadian penalty box well away from the goal. But a diving Crepeau stopped Salcedo’s penalty attempt in the 66th minute to keep the score knotted.

Prior to the opening goal, Canada had looked composed and well-organized despite Mexico dominating possession.

Mexico probed the Canada defence from the get-go, looking for ways to breach a backline that often contained five defenders. The Mexicans had 62.3 per cent possession in the first half and outshot Canada 8-3 (4-0 in shots on target). But the Canadians turned it up a notch in the second half.

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Both teams had chances late.

Canadian substitute Theo Corbeanu forced a good save from Talavera in the 77th minute after another dizzying run from Buchanan. Then Rogelio Funes Mori’s header went just wide of the Canadian goal in the 86th.

The Canadian men were hoping to reach the final for the first time since 2000 when they won the tournament, dispatching Mexico along the way. Canada had not beaten the Mexicans since, going winless in eight matches (0-6-2) while being outscored 16-4.

Canada also won the tournament in 1985 in its previous incarnation as the CONCACAF Championship.

Mexico has won the event 11 times and finished runner-up twice. It has hoisted the trophy at four of the last six tournaments (2009, 2011, 2015 and 2019). The U.S. won in 2013 and ‘17.

Thursday was Canada’s first trip to the semi-finals since 2007 when it finished third.

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The game also marked a return to the stadium where Canada had lost 3-2 to Haiti in the 2019 tournament, blowing a 2-0 lead in the quarter-final. Canada had previously lost 3-1 to Mexico in group play.

Canada was without captain/defender Steven Vitoria and forward Lucas Cavallini on Thursday, both suspended after receiving a second yellow card. Henry and Tesho Akindele slotted in the only two changes to Herdman’s starting lineup.

Junior Hoilett captained the side in place of Vitoria.

The Canadian starting 11 came into the match with a combined 214 caps with Osorio (41), Henry (37) and Hoilett (35) accounting for 113 of those.

Canada was without Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Atiba Hutchinson, Milan Borjan and Scott Arfield, who were injured or unavailable. Forwards Cyle Larin and Ayo Akinola were injured earlier in the tournament.

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