Recapping Mexico’s Confederations Cup Matches

In-depth match reports of Mexico’s 3 games in the 2013 Confederations Cup
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, June 28, 2013

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

Several fans of the Mexican national team either feared or hoped that the Confederations Cup would be the last chance for manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre. While he didn’t amaze the world the same way Mexico has in the past few years, El Tri did leave Brazil with a win after the 3-match group stage.

Match against Italy; Sunday, June 16

José Corona; Gerardo Flores, Francisco Rodríguez, Héctor Moreno, Carlos Salcido; Jesús Zavala, Gerardo Torrado, Javier Aquino, Andrés Guardado; Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernández

The tournament opening match against Italy proved quite a few things that observers of Mexico’s National Team had long suspected. Firstly, Mexico has a tremendous pair of goalkeepers competing for the starting spot. Secondly, the defense is too frail with recent lineups to compete at the international level. Thirdly, the central midfield does not allow the other 4 attacking players the freedom to create attacking movements.

Central defender Francisco “Maza” Rodríguez was repeatedly embarrassed by Italian attacking players and looked out of place throughout the game. Gerardo “Jerry” Flores was trying out the starting spot at right back against Italy but likely will not get many more runs out for the national team in defense as he was floundering the whole first half.

Half-way through the first 45, Mario Balotelli made quick work of both Flores and Maza, jogging by the 2 defenders as if they weren’t even there.

Mexico’s 1st serious chance of the match came in the 11th minute as Giovani caught up to a ball on the endline and played a ball into the path of teammate Guardado, but the Valencia winger’s shot hit the wrong side of the crossbar.

Andrea Pirlo unleashed a beautiful free kick that curled into the net past a diving Chuy Corona in the 27th minute. Angering many fans, Corona pulled his hands back and appeared to not make an honest effort to save Pirlo’s free kick. It was a great shot from Pirlo, who seems only to improve his technique as he ages, and maybe Ochoa wouldn’t have saved it either, but at least the Ajaccio goalkeeper has a proven track record of blocking those types of shots.

Javier Aquino had a very difficult time doing anything against Italy but quickly discovered that international defenders are a good stop above what he has faced in Liga MX and the Spanish second division. The young right winger was particularly mistake-prone against Italy.

Gerardo Torrado only made his presence known when fouling Italian players as he was unable to get a foothold in this game. Flores showed he was not the answer for Mexico’s question mark at right back while Maza Rodríguez confused all by actually wearing the captain’s armband despite being the worst player on the field.

In the 53rd minute, Aquino left the game for Hiram Mier. The young Monterrey defender is a natural central defender who is the latest in the carousel at right full back. Mier’s introduction pushed Flores up to midfield where he was equally ineffective. Giovani was combining well with Guardado and Salcido was pushing up the left side to both defend high and support the attack. However, none of the attacking moves were converted and Italy took advantage of a weak defense.

In 78th minute, Balotelli absolutely embarrassed Maza by easily brushing him aside on the turn before poking the ball past Corona as Moreno and Mier slid in too late. The dramatic Italian forward rose to occasion as he received a ball in the air and easily created a 1v1 situation with Corona, who actually got a foot on the shot but couldn’t prevent Balotelli’s shot from going in.

Match against Brazil; Wednesday, June 19

José Corona; Hiram Mier, Francisco Rodríguez, Héctor Moreno, Jorge Torres Nilo; Gerardo Flores, Carlos Salcido, Gerardo Torrado, Andrés Guardado; Gio dos Santos, Javier Hernández

Héctor Herrera subbed in for Flores in the 58th minute, but I think Herrera could have added a lot to the team in this game as a composed presence in central midfield. Pablo Barrera has a long fan following because of his electric performances in the 2011 Gold Cup and he entered the match for Torres Nilo in the 70th minute.

Despite blossoming into a star for Club América in the past year, Chepo didn’t trust Raul Jimenez with significant playing time and only entered him into the match in the dying minutes of regulation.

Given the 2 pieces of brilliance from Neymar at the beginning and the end of this match, this is not much so say about Mexico’s performance. Chepo opted for an ultra-defensive lineup with 2 defensive midfielders in the center and 2 players who have seen significant time as fullbacks on the wings. The El Tri coach was anticipating playing as many as 8 players behind the ball against a Brazilian side with the crowd on their side.

It’s not hard to see why Mexico created little going forward when this selection underlines the defensive and conservative mindset that won Chepo titles at the club level. Quite simply Mexico had no playmaker in this game and Guardado was unable to abandon his defensive responsibilities to take control of the game. Giovani dos Santos is a great player, but he can’t turn the tide of a game without his teammates joining him.

Chepo’s defensive formation and tactics could only have succeeded if Mexico kept a clean sheet and then looked to break on the counter attack. A superb volley from Neymar in the 9th minute left Mexico trapped in between 2 mindsets. Some of the players wanted to play a free-flowing game and punish Brazil for being sloppy in their defense but Chepo still wanted the team to maintain their own defensive shape. This incongruity meant that Mexico didn’t function cohesively as a team and generated little on the field against Brazil.

Perhaps adding to the confusion and lack of focus was the attention paid to allegations that Mexican national team players had visited a nightclub after their defeat to Italy.

One bright spot for Mexico was the play of Hiram Mier, the stand-in right back who successfully marked Neymar for long periods of the game. The defender’s performance was similar to Severo Meza in the warm-up match before the 2012 Olympics who marked Neymar out of that encounter.

The rightback position has been played recently by Meza and Flores in qualifiers, but has Paul Aguilar played in friendly matches, Israel Jimenez and Nestor Vidrio in the Olympics, Enrique Perez in 2012 and Efrain Juarez before that in the 2011 Gold Cup.

While certainly not all of these players are fighting for the starting spot now, there is no one undisputed starter at rightback for Mexico.

Match against Japan; Sunday, June 22

Guillermo Ochoa; Hiram Mier, Diego Reyes, Héctor Moreno, Jorge Torres Nilo; Giovani dos Santos, Jesús Zavala, Gerardo Torrado, Andrés Guardado; Raúl Jiménez, Javier Hernández

Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa got the start in goal and was active almost from the first whistle. Ochoa made a good low kick save in the 5th minute after a strong combination play by Honda and Kagawa.

Japan had an early goal disallowed for offside after a shot was flicked into the far post in a play reminiscent of a hockey deflection in front of net.

Guardado tried a spectacular effort as he took one touch to settle and launched a half volley before the ball hit the ground from just outside the area in the 14th minute.

Diego Reyes legitimized his inclusion in the starting lineup with several key siding tackles in the first half. However, the Porto-bound versatile defensive player needs to develop a better sense of when and where to pass while he’s carrying the ball forward out of the back. All of his strong defensive work can be undone with a sloppy giveaway in a dangerous area.

Guardado has been much busier than Giovani – active, inventive and always looking to go forward down the left side. Gio did have a successful one-two pass with Javier “Chicharito” Hernández but generally looked unenthused and rather bemused at playing right wing.

Gerardo Torrado was wearing the captain’s armband but was still poor with his passes and dangerous with his tackles. In yet another match, Torrado was unable to create anything going forward which necessitated Guardado drifting centrally to play-make and dropping deep to receive the ball from defenders. This shift in Guardado assumed role left Mexico flat for a period of the match.

Unlike regional opponents, Japan was not bunkering down defensively but rather attacking Mexico. This should have opened up space for El Tri to exploit on the counter attacker but there was a disconnect from defense to attack. Playing 2 strikers should have forced Japan’s outside fullbacks to tuck in, opening up space on the wings for Giovani and Guardado. However, both players seemed intent on cutting inside themselves rather than using the space out wide to send dangerous service into the box for Chicharito and Jimenez.

Mexico’s best chance of the half came in the 40th minute when Guardado rang an open header against the post. Guardado coming inside allowed the space for Jorge Torres Nilo on the overlap and the Tigres defender’s cross found Guardado in the area unmarked. El Tri should have gone ahead just before halftime.

Mexico came out of the locker room with a purpose to its play in the 2nd half. Chicharito and Giovani each had shots blocked while several players joined attacking movements with neat touches and crisp passing. These sequences culminated in once common sight; Guardado assisting a Chicharito goal.

Diego Reyes played a long ball into the left side channel that found Andres Guardado, who whipped his cross into the area just inside the 6-yard box between the goalkeeper and the last defender. Finding space inside the penalty area for headers is what Chicharito does best and his redirection of this cross was wonderfully timed. Japan’s goalkeeper had no chance as the Manchester United striker flicked his head and turned home the ball from close range.

Chicharito scored his second of the game in the 66th minute. Jesus Zavala flicked on a corner kick at the near post towards the Little Pea, who was left relatively unmarked. Once again the keeper had no chance as Chicharo pounced on his opportunity and easily nodded Mexico’s insurance goal.

The team had several quality attacks and decent chances on goal on either side of the second goal.  After that goal, however, Chepo de la Torre apparently felt confident with a win and began making defensive substitutions.

Guardado made way in the 71st minute for Carlos Salcido, who played as a second wingback with Torres Nilo. In the 76th minute Chepo removed Giovano for Pablo Barrera. Gio did not look at or otherwise acknowledge Chepo when he left the field and took his place on the bench.

These 2 changes showed that Chepo was content trying to defend a 2-goal lead and almost dared Japan to attack. And attack is just what the Japanese players did, in sustained waves.

Around the 85th minute, Japan made a breakthrough and pulled one back. Japan played a ball over the top at a diagonal into the Mexican penalty area that was played across the face of goal first time. Shinji Okazaki was streaking through the middle and knocked the ball on frame. Memo Ochoa got a touch on the shot but the ball hit the underside of the bar and into the net. There were several awful defensive mistakes by Mexico that led to the goal as Memo was strung out to dry.

Japan had been controlling much of the run of play preceding itsgoal and it continued to do so into the dying minutes of regulation.

In stoppage time Chicharito drew a penalty on a counter attack and stepped up to take the spot kick himself. Unlike his perfect shot against Italy, Chicharito’s weak shot to the left side was saved by Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima. Mexico’s talismanic forward got to the rebound but blasted what should have been an easy hat trick against the bar.

Chicharito now has 35 goals for Mexico and is level with Luis Hernandez in third place on Mexico’s all-time goal scoring list behind only Cuauhtemoc Blanco on 38 and Jared Borgetti with 46.

Mexico leaves Brazil with the victory against Japan, but how much of a morale boost was that match they were clinging to late? The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has come out with public support of Chepo de la Torre despite his team showing little invention during the Confederations Cup. El Tri is at the same point they were before the tournament, only now with more fans uninspired by the quality of play on display.

NEXT UP: July 7 – Gold Cup: Mexico vs. Panama, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 8 p.m. EST, Fox Soccer Channel, Univision.

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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