With the help of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Mexico won its final match of the Confederations Cup in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and avoided tying its worst result in the tournament. In 2001, El Tri could not grab a single point after losing to Australia, South Korea and France.
After a shaky start that saw Shinji Okazaki complete a superb play, which the lineman annulled, Mexico managed to regroup in the second half, led by Chicharito.
For manager Jose Manuel de la Torre, the pressure has mounted in every game. El Tri has not been at its best this year, and the proof is the team’s performance in the World Cup qualifiers. Mexico is off to its worst ever start in their Hexagonal history. Three consecutive draws at Azteca Stadium, plus two more in Panama and Honduras, have set the alarm off.
The players have lost their confidence and performance since they dominated the third round of the CONCACAF qualifier.
At the Confederations Cup, the problems did not vanish. The first game against Italy proved that the team had no idea how to play. Mexico had no initiative, no creativity and an inexplicable lineup that included Francisco Rodriguez and Gerardo Torrado.
The result, as many expected, was against El Tri. The squad’s backbone was a mess; Rodriguez constantly succumbed to Mario Balotelli, while the right sideline was far from working.
Brazil proved how bad the situation was. The Verde Amarela, led by 21-year-old Neymar, put Mexico in distress and showed that the team was physically suffering—mainly because the players ran without direction or an objective.
Several Mexican media outlets reported that de La Torre’s job was hanging by a thread and that he had to defeat Japan to continue with the team. El Tri did not surprise. The footballers stuck to their conservative and predictable style of play until Andres Guardado, who hadn’t had a great match, sent a powerful header to the post.
The true change came in the second half. Guardado continued to feed dangerous balls from the side in hopes of finding Chicharito, and he ultimately did.
Chicharito took advantage of his speed and mobility inside the box to send a header into the net and gave Mexico its second goal of the competition.
The Manchester United striker scored again 14 minutes later. This not only marked his 35th international goal, but he climbed to No. 3 on Mexico's scoring list, tying Luis Hernandez. Chicharito is 11 goals away from tying Jared Borgetti at the top.
Japan’s pressure suffocated El Tri from the beginning, and it wasn't until Los Verdes left their comfort zone that the effort paid off. The team needed this confidence boost. A game against a dynamic, strong and creative squad pushed Mexico to give its best.
The sense of urgency that had prevailed came second. Against the Blue Samurai, Mexico was patient and freer without the stiff lineup. "Chepo" needs to bring that same style of play to the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The mix between starters and subs was one of the best decisions he has taken so far.
With Rodriguez on the bench, Diego Antonio Reyes proved that he has tremendous technique and maturity despite being just 20 years old. Hiram Mier was also a good addition through the right side. The midfield needs to be tighter, and Giovani dos Santos has to stay focused and creative. Nevertheless, he is the best choice when coming from the right—Javier Aquino, Gerardo Flores Zuniga and Pablo Barrera are not the solution.
For the first time since March, de la Torre decided to put Guillermo Ochoa in on an official match. It was refreshing to see that there is no problem at all in goal—the Ajaccio keeper had at least three brilliant appearances.
Mexico receives Honduras on September 6 and visits the United States on September 11. In the next three months, the players will go back to their club teams. Some, like Reyes and Herrera, will even join new ones.
The Gold Cup, which will showcase an alternative Mexican team, may be good for the senior squad, too. Marco Fabian, Jorge Enriquez and Javier Cortés can strengthen the midfield during the Hexagonal.
Is Mexico's win against Japan key for the World Cup qualifier?
There is a long way ahead, but CONCACAF’s benevolent qualifying system, Chicharito’s performances and the win against Japan are the perfect combination to take a lot of pressure off the players and staff.
If the manager understands that the experienced footballers, like Rodriguez and Salcido, do not necessarily make a difference when they start a match, and he gives a shot to the new generation, Brazil 2014 will be a step closer.
Throw Hernandez's sense of goal, Guardado’s tenacity and dos Santos’ creativity into the mix, and Mexico can grab at least seven points of the 12 available in the Hexagonal.