The FIFA World Cup 2014 continued into its second day, and the first match on offer was Mexico's clash with Cameroon to close off Round 1 in Group A.
Giovani dos Santos saw two first-half goals wrongly disallowed, and El Tri played most of the match infuriated, but Oribe Peralta eventually tapped home to give Mexico the lead in the second period.
Starting XIs and Formations
Mexico lined up as expected, with their 5-3-2 formation in full flow. Javier Hernandez missed the starting line-up due to Peralta's brilliance in front of goal.
Cameroon reverted to a 4-5-1 formation, with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Benjamin Moukandjo on the wings, Samuel Eto'o alone up front and power in midfield.
Cameroon began in a 4-5-1 shape, dropping the midfield lines deep and leaving Eto'o alone up front.
It's a formation built perfectly to absorb pressure and counter at pace using runners, but the Indomitable Lions showed no form of cohesion and struggled to string anything together.
The "No. 10 space"—the area a classic No. 10 would occupy in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1—was completely empty, allowing Mexico to push the ball into Juan Vazquez's feet and allow them to move it freely left or right.
Eto'o stood still in the defensive phase, while wingers Moting and Moukandjo dropped absurdly deep, level with the midfield core. Cameroon were under the cosh early due to Mexico's overwhelming possession, and when they did launch an attack there were no targets to provide relief.
It was horribly inefficient, but if not for two goals disallowed wrongly for offside, it would have been plainly obvious on the scoresheet much, much earlier.
A complete lack of pressure on Mexico's midfield three gave them time to work opportunities and pick passes. Cameroon started the match defending at medium length on the pitch (not too high, not too low) but soon began dropping as El Tri found runner after runner.
Particularly, the wing-backs found a lot of joy in slipping behind Cameroon's full-backs. Cedric Djeugoue was crucified by Miguel Layun, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto struggled to a lesser extent against Paul Aguilar.
For a long while, the final delivery—usually a low cross—underwhelmed and failed to beat the first man, but they steadily improved and Cameroon were forced into more and more last-ditch blocks and tackles.
If a channel-pass to a wing-back wasn't the choice, then Andres Guardado—playing an odd, Angel di Maria-shuttler-esque role—was the option with the ball at his feet.
Too Hot to Handle
Right-back Djeugoue was hauled off at half-time, and rightly so. It's not much of a stretch to admit we don't expect to see a worse 45 minutes across the rest of the World Cup.
Dany Nounkeu replaced him, and the Indomitable Lions felt happier and more solid when passing out from the back as a result. Moting immediately became a focal point and more balls fell to his feet, and all of a sudden Cameroon were a threat in the final third.
Stephane M'Bia also began opening his legs and carrying the ball forward, as if coach Volke Finker had pointed out the big open space between he and Eto'o at half-time.
But Mexico were still, by some distance, the better side in Natal, with their fizzing passes, dipping movements and great runs making Cameroon look amateur.
Dos Santos, Peralta and later Hernandez would all aggressively feint to run in behind the defence, forcing Cameroon to drop back as a line. Once done they'd come back toward the ball-carrier, picking up a fired 15-yard pass and distributing higher up.
Cheap, easy possession using a method borne out of freedom to play passes.
Cameroon were dreadful. If it hadn't been for some poor officiating, Mexico would have been out of sight by half-time with a two- or three-goal lead. They struggled to get out and didn't move any of their three offensive players back to help pick the ball up and move forward.
Giovani dos Santos' movement and ball-playing ability were superb throughout, and he encouraged Mexico's very strong possession play. Defensively they have some work to do, but offensively they were rather bright.
Croatia vs. Mexico, it seems, is the game to decide second place.
Tactical Man of the Match: Giovani dos Santos, Mexico
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