Alan Pulido knows how to make an entrance. In his first senior international appearance for Mexico, the 22-year-old earned himself a hat-trick in El Tri's systematic 4-0 demolition of South Korea in San Antonio.
Keith Hickey of Goal summed it up well after the game:
What a game for Alan Pulido. #ChicharitoWho?— Keith Hickey (@usarsnl) January 30, 2014
Pulido remained humble after the match, per ESPN FC's Tom Marshall:
Alan Pulido: It was a dream debut for me with the national team. The important thing is that we won.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) January 30, 2014
This match was a great opportunity for both sides to work new players into the squad in an effort to see if anybody else would emerge as a possible starter before heading to Brazil. There aren't any more competitive fixtures before the World Cup, so this was the perfect time to experiment.
Both Miguel Herrera and Hong Myung-Bo made a lot of changes from their regular first teams, and it showed on the pitch.
Both teams struggled to find much fluidity, especially in the second half.
Mexico were largely the side in the ascendancy in the first half, and they were rewarded with two goals.
The first came courtesy of Oribe Peralta in the 37th minute.
It demonstrated why he deserves to be in the first team and how he may be a better option than Javier Hernandez. Peralta received the ball inside the 18-yard box from Miguel Angel Ponce, made one touch to get away from the defender and fired the ball into the back of the net.
South Korea could've defended better, but Peralta did a great job of pouncing on the opportunity. The goal was his 11th in eight games for El Tri, per Goal's Seth Vertelny:
Oribe Peralta just keeps scoring goals for Mexico. 11 in 8. Likely the #1 striker right now, ahead of Chicharito— Seth Vertelney (@svertgoalcom) January 30, 2014
The second goal for Mexico was a bit more fortuitous.
Ponce lined up to take the free kick and delivered a great ball in front of goal. South Korea couldn't clear it out, and it fell to Carlos Pena. He looked like he was possibly offside, but that didn't stop him from hitting it low across goal, where a grateful Alan Pulido was in position for an easy tap-in.
South Korea had a couple golden opportunities to score in the 24th and 27th minutes, but their finishing was lacking.
That was the main difference between the two sides. Mexico made the most of their goalscoring chances. South Korea didn't. In a match that featured so little attacking, that can be all it takes.
To start the second half, both coaches made a few substitutions and followed with more a little later. That served to make what had already been a fragmented match even more so. You could see that the players had very little experience playing with one another.
There weren't many shots to be had, and Mexico especially fell off after halftime. Only late into the match would they regain their attacking verve.
Pulido earned a brace with a goal in the 86th minute. The real credit belongs to Isaac Brizuela, though, as his slaloming run through the defense and pass across goal set Pulido up with another easy finish.
He earned the hat-trick three minutes later, and once again Pulido was in the right place at the right time. Luis Montes and Aldo De Nigris both had their shots saved, but Pulido came running in from behind to add the finishing touch.
All in all, Herrera has reason to be excited for his team's prospects. He opted to bring in a lot of new players, with many—in particular Pulido, Ponce and Brizuela—playing very well.
|Francisco Rodríguez (off '55)||C|
|Rafael Márquez (off '46)||C-|
|Miguel Angel Ponce (off '46)||B+|
|José Juan Vázquez (off '55)||C+|
|Carlos Peña (off '46)||C|
|Oribe Peralta (off '55)||B+|
|Jorge Torres Nilo||C+|
|Juan Carlos Valenzuela||C+|
|Aldo De Nigris||B|
Lineup via Fox Soccer
|Seung Gyu Kim||C-|
|Jin Po Park||C-|
|Jin-Su Kim (off '67)||C+|
|Ki Hoon Yeom (off '46)||C|
|Myung-Joo Lee (off '46)||C-|
|Keun-Ho Lee (off '60)||C+|
|Shin-Wook Kim (off '46)||C|
|Yo Han Ko||C|
Lineup via Fox Soccer
Key Player Grades
Alan Pulido, Mexico: A+
What a brilliant performance from Alan Pulido.
Some may argue that all three of his goals were relatively easy to finish. Anybody could've scored them.
However, being in the right place is an asset you look for from any attacking player. Pulido had the intelligence and intuition to know how things would play out and got himself in the best position to score.
Isaac Brizuela, Mexico: B+
Isaac Brizuela's run at goal for Mexico's third was a thing of beauty. He weaved in and out and, rather than trying to take the glory for himself, was smart enough to find Pulido and deliver a perfect ball over the top.
Brizuela was one of the players Herrera brought onto this squad to see if he could factor into the team in Brazil.
While a friendly against South Korea isn't the greatest test of one's talent, Brizuela made the most of this chance and set himself up well for the coming months.
The next competitive match both countries will play comes at the 2014 World Cup this summer. Until then, the two have various friendlies to maintain squad continuity and ensure that the players are ready for Brazil.
El Tri will take on Nigeria in March and then Ecuador in May. South Korea stay in the United States for their next fixture, a friendly against the U.S. national team on Friday. After that, they have friendlies against Greece and Tunisia before the World Cup.