El Tri Stumbles Against a Physical Jamaica

The Reggae Boyz put in a hard fought effort to grab a point from the Estadio Azteca
by Brendan Doherty   |   Thursday, February 07, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

In Wednesday night's game, Jamaica gave Mexico its first draw in the Estadio Azteca in a World Cup Qualifying match in 15 years. Furthermore, the game marked only the 7th time in 75 WCQs that Mexico has failed to win at home.

My match preview predicted Mexico would go back to a traditional setup that has given the team success in the past few years. Instead of lining up in that 4-2-3-1, though, Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre chose to play two strikers from the starting whistle and that made the difference against Jamaica's tough defense.

Even though Chepo knew that the game would get harder for his team the longer it took them to score, Mexico showed no urgency from the kickoff. Mexico needed to come out early and score quickly to take the wind out of Jamaica's sails. Unfortunately for the Mexican faithful, El Tri came out flat in the first 10 minutes and Jamaica capitalized on that laziness by running at the Mexican defense often and early.

Player analysis

In this 4-4-2, Giovani dos Santos started on the right side and wandered centrally often. Gio showed glimpses of his talent with a dangerous shot in the 14th minute cutting in from the right side. But by the 35th minute, Gio was solely occupying the center of the field and the right flank was open for Jamaica to exploit as Aguilar was forced to support forward. The Mallorca attacking midfielder was substituted at halftime.

Guardado was solid the whole game and was one of select few bright spots for Mexico on the night. For some reason Chepo ordered his most effective supporting attacker to play in a defensive midfield role towards the end of the game, wasting his crossing ability.

Chicharito had one of his worst games for Mexico in recent memory. Aside from the last 10 minutes of the match, he was absent for large periods of time. The Manchester United striker excels at finding pockets of space between two imposing centerbacks, which is what he does in EPL. With Peralta occupying a striker's role, there was less room for the Little Pea to operate.

Chicharito performs best when he plays centrally, but he was forced to come outside the box to receive that ball and play in crosses for Peralta. In large part, Chicharito was ineffective in the first half because Peralta was clogging the lanes of space he needed to operate. Oribe Peralta wasn't horrible, but he didn't do nearly enough to warrant a 4-4-2 in light of strength of the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Hector Herrera looked nervous and out of place when he moved forward with the play. Carlos Salcido rushed nearly every time he received the ball in an advanced position. Salcido had several shots slice well wide of goal and he rarely made intelligent decisions with the ball at his foot.

Hector Moreno did not have the best game of his career, but his mistakes were overshadowed by Maza Rodriguez. For the second game in as many weeks, Maza made more high profile errors than ball-winning tackles. To compound the expected scorn many fans will feel towards the America defender, he appeared to display an offensive hand gesture to media as he was walking down the tunnel after the game.

Fullbacks Pablo Aguilar and Jorge Torres Nilo struggled with the explosiveness of the Jamaican attackers as both defenders had to commit frequent fouls to prevent getting beat. Aguilar could not keep pace with his mark and Torres Nilo turned the ball over far too many times.

Mexico’s substitutes did not fare much better than the starters. Javier Aquino came on for Gio at right midfield and similarly failed to mark much of an impact on the game. He was a presence down the right flank, but both his service and shots were off the mark. Angel Reyna entered the game for two-way midfielder Herrera but didn’t contribute much to Mexico’s attack. Despite flashy step-overs to create space, Reyna was not a productive player. Mexico’s third player off the bench was Marco Fabian, who’s only notable achievement was skying a free kick routine just before the end of regulation.

Jesus Corona was a strong candidate for man of the match and probably was Mexico’s strongest performer. The Cruz Azul goalkeeper bailed out his teammates time and time again after Jamaica carved upon his defense. Without Corona's heroics, Mexico would have been down at least one goal to Jamaica by halftime.

Match highlights

Mexico had no answer for Jamaica's Jobi McAnuff, who was the strongest player for the Reggae Boyz and did enough offensive work to earn my man of the match. McAnuff had two great chances in the early minutes of the match when a cross from the right side split centerbacks Moreno and Rodriguez. Paul Aguilar could not beat McAnuff to the ball and the Reading midfielder directed the cross onto the post. With his rebound, McAnuff shot softly into the center of the goal and Mexico's goalkeeper Jesus Corona was able to scramble across to smother the tame effort.

That sequence captured the essence of much of the first 80 minutes of the match, hard work by Jamaica and lucky escapes by Mexico. Jamaica did not allow Mexican players to settle down and establish their rhythm in the game.

By the end of the first half, Mexico had to revert to playing diagonal balls from the center 25-30 yards out to the wings, instead of playing balls into the box for Chicharito to head on goal. A weak shot by Carlos Salcido from 25 yards out late in the first half was a clear sign of Mexico's desperation.

Jamaican manager Theodore Whitmore tactically outshined his Mexican counterpart by organizing his team well and providing explosive attacks which led to the two best chances of the half. Mexico has only scored one first half goal in the last seven games, but unlike other matches, Chepo did not change to a 4-2-3-1 after the break.

To start the second half, dos Santos made way for Javier Aquino, who is a naturally wide player. Once Herrera was subbed out for Angel Reyna, Chepo changed the formation to an awkward and vulnerable 4-1-3-2. Salcido initially played the deep-lying midfield role behind Guardado, Reyna and Aquino.

After the hour mark, Portland Timbers forward Ryan Johnson received a through pass on the break but couldn't control the ball before Corona rushed out to intercept the ball. A few minutes later, Jamaica was on the break again with Theo Robinson beating Andres Guardado (who was the farthest Mexican player back) but Corona came to the rescue to smother the chance.

For much of the second half, Chepo de la Torre was visibly incensed on the sideline but everyone watching the game knew how to fix Mexico's tactics. The notoriously fickle fans in the Estadio Azteca began not only to boo their own team but went as far as to yell “Ole” when the Reggae Boyz performed a quality move.

Late in the game, fullbacks Aguilar and Torres Nilo were playing long crosses into the box searching for Chicharito. Even though the crosses were desperate and misplaced, Chicharito worked hard to get his head on the ball but couldn't direct them goalwards. Chicharito had to be the most frustrated man on the field on Wednesday as he did everything he could with consistently poor service all night.

Final words

When the final whistle blew after 96 minutes, Jamaica walked off the field with a well-deserved point. Whitmore's Reggae Boyz, especially the new England-based recruits, properly executed a simple but effective game plan. On the other hand, Chepo's men poorly executed an even poorer tactical system. Mexico's substitutions did little to improve its play in the second half. Despite the shortcomings of a lot of players, a majority of the responsibility for Wednesday night's result falls to Chepo de la Torre.

If Chepo wants to advance out of the Hexagonal in one of three automatic seeds, or even keep his job until then, he needs to rethink his team's approach. It is infuriating for fans of the Mexican national team to see their team struggle with a formation that obviously doesn't suit the best talents of their players. Chepo may have an argument for the need to train a secondary tactical gameplan and widen the pool of players.

But by repeatedly selecting Oribe Peralta or Angel Reyna and lining the team in an ineffective strategy, the head coach is losing support from fans in a country that has a reputation of dumping coaches.

NEXT UP: WCQ March 22, Mexico vs. Honduras, Olimpico Olimpico, San Pedro Sula, Honduras. 7 p.m. EST. Broadcast network TBD.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
BRENDAN'S SPONSORS