Many casual Canadian soccer fans may not be fully aware what “CONCACAF” means. As a noun, it’s the clumsy acronym for the Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football, the regional FIFA affiliate in which Canada is a member. As a verb, though, it means something else entirely. Last night, in a scandalous Gold Cup semifinal that saw Mexico top Panama 2-1, we got a reminder of just what if means to be CONCACAFed.
Essentially to be CONCACAFed is to be screwed—hugely, obviously and inevitably—generally by shocking refereeing that tilts a key match in the favour of a bigger team, more often than not Mexico.
Consider this Gold Cup. Mexico have been dire, the once-powerhouses settling for group-stage draws against Guatemala and Trinidad before eking through the quarterfinals against Costa Rica on—of course!—a 120th minute penalty. The call was pure CONCACAF, so much so that Oribe Peralta looked embarrassed to have been awarded the PK because (and I’m guessing here) the referee felt bad that the Mexican striker just missed a diving header.
And so the the semifinals. It seemed that the powers-that-be were keen to get the CONCACAFing out of the way early, sending off Panamanian forward Luis Tejada (Panama’s most prolific striker, it’s worth noting) for having the temerity to contest an innocuous midfield header. But CONCACAF (the noun) loves nothing more than to show off its ability to CONCACAF (the verb), and the best was yet to come. Panama—the better side despite being down to 10 men—went ahead and stayed ahead. In the 89th minute, Panamanian captain Roman Torres fell backwards onto the ball—legitimately and in no real way having an effect on the outcome of the play, since all he accomplished was slightly delaying his keeper’s ability to scoop it up. American referee Mark Geiger awards Mexico a penalty. CONCACAF 2-1 Panama.
A melee ensues: The Panamanians are enraged; the Mexicans appear, depending on the player, either amused or bemused; the Mexican fans are elated, hurling a shower of cups that we’ll charitably assume are filled with beer. After 10 minutes when it really seemed that Geiger himself might end up on the receiving end of a few unkind verbs, Andres Guardado converts the penalty. From then, it’s pretty much over. In extra time the Mexicans get a second (if legitimate) PK, and Panama is sunk.
For a region notorious for dubious officiating and allegations of rigging tournaments, it was yet another low. Neither side could stomach it: After the match Panamanian coach Hernan Dario Gomez openly mused on quitting the game altogether; brace-scoring Mexican striker Andres Guardado conceded that he considered duffing the first PK, saying “I didn’t celebrate, because that penalty call left me with a bad taste” (easy to say after the fact, but still); and Mexican coach Miguel Herrera reportedly said flatly that “the first penalty was not a penalty.”
Most telling, perhaps? Notorious cartel boss, the freshly escaped-from-prison Joaquin Guzman Loera, known to you and me as “El Chapo,” tweeted this after the match.
Translation: The best player of the match was the referee.
Now, I can’t confirm the Twitter account—they don’t give the little blue check marks to cartel kingpins, I guess—but let’s assume no one wants risk crossing this guy by running a fake account and call it legit. So, everyone at CONCACAF, here’s the thing: When an on-the-lamb, bloodthirsty Mexican cartel boss calls you out on your dishonesty, and pretty much everyone agrees with him, you really need to think about cleaning up your act.