Mexico Squeaks out a Victory in Jamaica

Despite controlling much of the game, Mexico won by the narrowest margin
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, June 07, 2013

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

The Mexican Men’s National Team made its mark in the Hexagonal qualifying with a 1-0 victory over Jamaica. The win sends El Tri to the head of the CONCACAF table.

Selections

José Corona got the nod ahead of Guillermo Ochoa to start in goal. Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez partnered his Club América teammate Diego Reyes in central defense. Monterrey’s Severo Meza started at right back while veteran Carlos Salcido played in his more comfortable leftback position instead of in midfield.

That hole in central midfield was filled by Gerardo Torrado playing defensively and Jesús Zavala looking to move the ball forward. Cruz Azul’s Pablo Barrera started on the right wing instead of Giovani dos Santos or Villarreal’s Javier Aquino. Andrés Guardado started on the left side after seeing his Valencia side knocked out of a Champions League spot on the weekend. Aldo de Nigris joined Javier “Chicharito” Hernández up top.

There were a number of interesting selections for the two teams. Given how physical the match was expected to be, José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre surprised many with the inclusion of tactically sound but physically unimpressive youngster Diego Reyes.

The Porto-bound defender has bounced around the Club América lineup in recent years playing centrally, as a full back and even in midfield while his various coaches tried to find his best position. Jamaican coach also started young players in defense with 18-year-old Alvas Powell given the task of closing down Andrés Guardado.

Jamaican manager Theodore Whitmore lined up a physically strong side that looked to play conservatively for much of the game. The Reggae Boyz played a 4-5-1 with 2 central midfielders sitting deep and the wide players tasked with marking when Mexico pushed fullbacks into the attack.

First half highlights

In the opening minutes of the game, both teams were sizing each other up as neither seemed rather fired up. Mexico had a few corner kicks which they tried to play long before heading back across the face of the goal with little success.

Guardado was active for Mexico all game, but did not always stay wide. The Valencia player chose not to take the ball down the channel and cross to find large center forward de Nigris or the always slippery Chicharito. Instead Guardado cut inside to take shots or look for quick diagonal passes through the Jamaican defense. This opened up space on the outside for Salcido, who reveled in his return to left back, to overlap and cross dangerous balls into the area.

By the end of the first half, de Nigris had firmly rooted himself as the higher of the 2 forwards, meaning Chicharito was playing behind the Monterrey target man. While this scheme suits the play of de Nigris, Chicharito is not particularly effective playing with the ball at his foot outside of the box.

To further complicate Mexico's attacking efforts, both Guardado and Barrera consistently looked to cut inside rather than cross. The wide players often ran into the same space occupied by Manchester United's diminutive poacher while de Nigris was alone in the area without service.

In the first half, notably in the first 30 minutes, Jamaica was not aggressive. The Reggae Boyz were content to let Mexico have possession and to concede multiple corner kicks to the visitors.

The quintessential moment of the half, if not the whole game, for Jamaica came in the dying moments of the first 45 minutes.

With stoppage time ticking away Jamaica had a corner kick which they played backwards without any urgency. From the start the Caribbean side appeared happy to settle for a draw that seemed likely due to Mexico's sloppy play in the attacking third.

More of the same in the second?

The second half continued many of the trends established in the first. Chepo saw no need to make any changes during halftime, but was somewhat validated soon after kickoff. Jamaica conceded the flanks to Mexico, but instead of cutting inside Guardado played on to Salcido, who crossed into the box. Aerially impressive, de Nigris weaved between 2 Jamaican defenders and finished his header from 6 yards out with no mistake.

De Nigris's 48th minute goal was Mexico's 1st goal from open play in the Hexagonal not from Chicharito. Jamaica's young defender Powell cannot be held at fault for Mexico's goal as he was marking Guardado and Je-Vaughn Watson was charged with tracking Salcido's overlap.

Shortly after Mexico went ahead, EL Tri found themselves under pressure from a dangerous free kick. Portland Timbers' Ryan Johnson won a diving header from that service and Corona reacted well to make a quick kick save. Corona did well on the resulting corner kick to dive low to his left and keep out Eliot's header.

Just after the hour mark of the game, Chicharito received a through ball that split the Jamaican defense. The forward was alone on goal, but Ricketts came out well and cut down the angle significantly. Jamaica's goalkeeper appeared to block the shot with his thigh as Chicharito attempted to nutmeg him.

Guardado was much more dangerous in the second half than he was in the first. In the 83rd minute, he beat one defender with a fake and cut inside past another before he fired a shot with his right foot. Unfortunately for Guardado, the shot went high, but this episode shows his work-rate didn't drop off as the game wore on.

Dos Santos entered the match for de Nigris in the 67th minute and managed to make his impression on proceedings. In the 84th minute, Gio played a ball over the top perfectly into the path of Chicharito's run on the right side. Chicharito cut inside on his defender but his left footed shot curls towards Ricketts instead of past him.

In the 3rd minute of stoppage time, Jamaica had a throw in deep in Mexico territory. The Reggae Boyz opted for a long throw, but Reyes cleared the ball easily. Ricketts had come up on the play and he chips a ball over the top of Mexico's defense.

In real time it appeared that 6 Jamaican players were offside, but the player who received the pass was actually onside when Ricketts played the ball. Corona made the save on the play anyway, but well after the whistle had gone. If the officials had gotten that call right, and Jamaica had scored, this match would have had a very different storyline.

Tepid celebrations for Mexico

Mexico will love getting its 1st win in the calendar year of 2013 and in the Hexagonal. However, the result should not hide the fact that El Tri was poor throughout on the night. If Jamaica had played to their strengths offensively and had not lost de Nigris on the goal, the Reggae Boyz could have been celebrating another result against Mexico.

Because I am a huge fan of Ochoa, it is reluctantly that I give my Man of the Match honors to José Corona. The Cruz Azul keeper stopped everything Jamaica threw at him, including making a number of saves on corner kicks.

Though this may give Corona the momentum in the battle to be Mexico's starting goalkeeper, I have no doubt Ochoa will be between the sticks in Brazil.

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.
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