Mexico vs. Martinique: Areas El Tri Must Improve Before Gold Cup Knockout Stage

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVJuly 15, 2013

DENVER, CO - JULY 14:  Jordy Delem #15 of Martinique tackles the ball away from Carlos Peña #6 of Mexico during the first half of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on July 14, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Mexico advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup after a 3-1 win over Martinique, but it was far from a perfect performance and left El Tri with plenty to work on.

While Sunday's Mexico squad looked worlds better than how they did in the Gold Cup opener against Panama, they struggled to put the overmatched Martinique squad away until the final minutes and nearly let them equalize a couple of times.

Let's break down the biggest areas of concern for El Tri heading into the quarterfinal stage.


Defensive Intensity

While Mexico effectively shut down Martinique's attack for much of the second half, it was far from an inspiring performance from the back line.

With the ability to play up for much of the 90 minutes, one would expect Mexico's defense to have their legs under them and handle any Martinique attack in stride, shutting it down quickly.

That wasn't the case. They weren't tested early, but when Martinique put on the pressure late in the first half, Mexico's defense crumbled and left itself vulnerable. 

Granted, some of Mexico's best defenders—Andres Guardado, Francisco Rodriguez and more—aren't on the roster, but this team's subs shouldn't have looked so lifeless for so long against an inferior opponent. 

There were many opportunities for Martinique to equalize the game, and Mexico is nothing short of lucky that they only allowed one goal.


Putting Opponents Away

Simply put, fans of Mexico's national team haven't had a lot to cheer about this summer. 

Between the Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying, wins have been hard to come by, and when they come, they're often close wins that aren't a certainty until the last minute.

Sunday was no exception. After going up 2-0, Mexico finally thought they had found that blowout win to get their confidence going.

Instead, a poor defensive play from Miguel Layun in the box resulted in a Martinique penalty kick that cut the lead to 2-1. Just minutes later, Martinique nearly equalized and had more than a few chances to do so before Mexico finally put it away right before full time.

Mexico's ability to get the breathing room late Sunday shouldn't be overlooked, but it simply took too long for it to come to fruition. 

If Mexico cannot put opponents like Martinique away late in matches, they'll really struggle against top-flight competition.


Replacing Chicharito

The Mexico national team lost much of their attacking leadership in the Gold Cup when they opted to rest Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez for the tournament.

It's not exactly a surprise—both Mexico and the USA tend to rest their best players due to the Gold Cup being so close to World Cup qualifying. But that doesn't change the fact that they're without their most dangerous goal scorer.

So far, Marco Fabian has stepped up into that role with three goals in three matches, but you can't expect one player with seven career caps to fill that void. It has to be a team effort.

After three goals on Sunday, Mexico pulled together a collective effort to replace their lost goal scoring (compounded by Giovani dos Santos' absence). But that hasn't been the case all tournament.

When Mexico has to face the better teams in the Gold Cup field, objective No. 1 has to be putting balls in the net. Their defense has been lethargic at times, but they've gotten away with that in the past due to offensive firepower.

If Mexico want to notch another Gold Cup and defend their international title, it'll take all of their attacking players pulling together to replace what their Manchester United counterpart would bring to the table.