Charlotte: Javier Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos scored two goals each on Thursday as Mexico shrugged off a potential doping drama to beat Cuba 5-0 in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The victory came hours after the Mexican football federation provisionally suspended five players, including defender Francisco Rodriguez and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, for testing positive for the banned muscle-building drug clenbuterol.
Although Mexican officials said they believed the five ingested the drug accidentally through tainted chicken or meat at a pre-tournament training camp, they pulled them from the regional championship from which the winners advance to the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil in 2013.
Mexico got off to a slow start, but seized control with three goals in a five-minute span in the second half.
Dos Santos had two goals in the flurry, in the 62nd and 67th, with Aldo De Nigris adding another in the 64th. Hernandez opened the scoring in the 35th and capped it with his 75th-minute strike as Mexico moved atop Group A with six points from two matches.
"We knew that game was gong to be complicated," coach Jose Manuel De La Torre said. "They were going to clog our spaces and counterattack. But we needed to take care of the important opportunities."
"You could see in the first half we weren't effective. In the second half we took advantage of opportunities and you see the result."
Mexico are assured of reaching the quarter-finals.
In the first of the evening's two Group A matches, Costa Rica snatched a 1-1 draw with El Salvador.
Randall Brenes, who came on in the 80th minute, fired a low shot from inside the penalty area that beat Miguel Montes to keep Costa Rica unbeaten in group play.
"We are improving. I think we played 50 or 60 percent better than we played against Cuba," said Costa Rica coach Ruben Israel, whose team won its opener 5-0. "We handled the ball a lot. We were able to shoot the ball a lot of times. But when you are not scoring, you're not scoring."
El Salvador coach Ricardo La Volpe was angry at the injury time awarded by American referee Jair Marrufo.
"We are very upset about the last-minute goal," La Volpe said. "The referee added four minutes and it was a huge exaggeration. And aside of those four minutes he even added another minute."
"I'm really, really upset about this. I don't judge the result of this game, but it's an uncomfortable situation."
Rodolfo Zelaya had given El Salvador the lead when his free kick found the net in the 44th minute.
Group A round-robin action concludes on Sunday in Chicago, where El Salvador will face Cuba and Costa Rica will take on Mexico.
With CONCACAF announcing that Mexico's 5-0 victory over El Salvador in their tournament opener will stand, El Salvador now must beat Cuba on Sunday to reach the knockout stage.
La Volpe declined to comment on that, and on Mexico's brewing doping scandal in general.
"When we got to the locker room they told us that information," La Volpe said. "I'm going to wait for the official CONCACAF release before I tell the press what's my opinion."
The suspensions left Mexico with just 17 eligible players. CONCACAF officials said they would meet on Friday to discuss whether Mexico could call up replacement players for the remaining matches.
"We will wait for the final result," Mexico coach De La Torre said of the doping investigation. "Not having all the players hurt, but we will be waiting for CONCACAF result and what they decide."
The tournament continues on Friday with Group B matches in Miami, where Jamaica will face Guatemala and Grenada will play Honduras.
Tampa, Florida will host two Group C matches on Saturday: Canada v Guadeloupe and United States v Panama.