10 Things Mexico Learned from 2014 World Cup Campaign
Mexico left the 2014 World Cup holding its head high and looking to the future. Like everything in life, there were good and bad moments, but all of them will turn into experience.
Against all odds, Mexico had its best performance outside home turf in 15 appearances in the tournament.
Miguel Herrera, his staff and players gave quite a show and proved that confidence, hunger and structure can lead a team toward greatness.
The road was far from easy, but the result was very satisfying. After four games, here are the 10 lessons El Tri learned.
A New Generation Is Taking Over
Hector Herrera, Giovani dos Santos, Marco Fabian and Hector Moreno are great examples of the new generation.
All of them have played fantastic with Mexico's youth teams. Herrera, dos Santos and Fabian secured the gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Moreno was part of the team that won the U-17 World Cup in 2005—so was Gio.
These players were standard-bearers in Brazil and have emerged as the generation that will make the difference in the upcoming years.
Others such as Raul Jimenez, Diego Reyes, Isaac Brizuela and Alan Pulido will join them briefly. They are in the backseat for now, but since the generational transition is here, expect them to be a thriving force soon.
Absences Can Hurt More Than Expected
Hector Moreno had had a fantastic performance before he suffered a fractured tibia in a tackle.
Although Diego Reyes did a fine job, Moreno's injury was a tough loss for the Mexican back line.
Jose Juan Vazquez suspension also put El Tri in distress. Miguel Herrera's 5-3-2 system pushes the central midfielder toward perfection.
El Gallito understood his responsibility and weight on the pitch, but his suspension harmed the team greatly.
Carlos Salcido couldn't keep up, which meant the link between lines was broken.
Experience Is Not Always Enough...
Carlos Salcido played in Europe from 2006 to 2011. During that period, he became one of the toughest left backs in world football.
Different from Rafael Marquez, who is one year his senior at 35, Salcido couldn't perform with the same brilliance as he used to.
Instead, he sat on the bench for most of the World Cup and only came in as a last-minute sub versus Cameroon and played the complete round-of-16 match, as Jose Juan Vazquez was suspended.
In the end, he couldn't keep the pace against the Netherlands. He was slow and erratic, especially when he had to keep the ball safe.
He won one tackle, committed three fouls and had a 76 percent pass accuracy, as per Squawka.com.
...Sometimes It Is All That Matters
Miguel Herrera knew that Rafael Marquez and Hector Moreno had a spot in his starting XI, but the third center back was not defined.
El Piojo had two men for the job, Diego Reyes—who had performed brilliantly with the U-23 squad—and Francisco Rodriguez—an experienced defender who was not in top form.
In the end, he picked Rodriguez despite his not-so-sharp level in the warm-ups.
The Cruz Azul defender proved everyone wrong and became a key element of the back line, especially versus Brazil and Croatia.
Rodriguez recovered 21 balls, and his pass completion rate was 78 percent, according to FIFA.com.
Meanwhile, Squawka.com reported that he made 26 clearances and 11 interceptions.
Guillermo Ochoa Is Only Getting Better
Guillermo Ochoa proved over and over again why Miguel Herrera decided to put him on the goal during the World Cup.
The former Ajaccio footballer made nine saves, his average claim success was 100 percent and he had two clean sheets, per Squawka.com.
Ochoa is currently 28 years old and has finally gotten his chance with Mexico after Oswaldo Sanchez and Oscar Perez had been El Tri's starters in the two previous editions of the World Cup.
His performance at Brazil is only a little taste of what he is capable of doing. Ever since his debut, Ochoa has had quick reflexes and good dives.
His experience in Ligue 1 has made of him a more mature goalkeeper who can handle pressure without compromising his communication with the defense.
Keep the Pressure Till the End
Mexico controlled the round-of-16 clash for 75 minutes. After that, it parked the bus and forgot to press the Europeans.
In the end, it gave the ball to the rival; of course, the Oranje took advantage of the opportunity and put Mexico in distress.
The stats don't lie. Louis van Gaal's boys put 29 crosses on the box, compared to Mexico's nine. Netherlands also led in corner kicks: It had 10, while El Tri only took two, as per FIFA.com.
Whether the referee helped the Europeans or not, if Mexico had kept the ball, it would have advanced to the quarterfinals.
The change in strategy was very costly for Miguel Herrera. Los Verdes were naive.
Long-Distance Shots Can Make the Difference
During the warm-ups, Mexico tried its luck with long-distance shots, and they paid off. Miguel Layun scored twice against Israel, while Luis Montes put the ball away versus Ecuador.
Once in Brazil, the team forgot about them in the opening game but remembered them against Brazil. Hector Herrera put the ball in the crossbar, which was Mexico's clearest goal opportunity against the Selecao.
Against Croatia, Mexico did it again but couldn't convert a single chance. It wasn't until the round of 16 that Giovani dos Santos managed to open the deadlock in the beginning of the second half.
El Tri have a lot of good players whose technique and power can provide diversity to the team, especially when the rival's defense is tight.
Not every single play has to come from a diagonal or a cross.
Patience Pays Off
Mexico kept its cool in the four games, which was something we hadn't seen in a while.
El Tri used to lose their heads as soon as they missed a clear opportunity or if the rival was tough.
In Brazil they managed to work it out, and it paid off. Their first game was bittersweet, as the linesman wrongfully disallowed two goals, but they kept grinding and won the match.
They also worked hard against Brazil, and although they tied the game, they never lost focus.
The victory over Croatia was a confidence boost. Not only did Javier Hernandez score for the first time in 12 months, but Mexico also cleared the doubts about its attacking strength.
The sense of urgency the team had shown during the qualification process vanished under Miguel Herrera's tenure.
Rafael Marquez Still Has What It Takes
There is absolutely no doubt that Rafael Marquez is a thriving force.
Rafa wasn't at his best when he left the New York Red Bulls to join Leon, but he managed to get back in shape and represent El Tri well.
Marquez wore the captain's armband in a Word Cup for the fourth time in his career. He led the defense and also gave the rest of his teammates calm and structure when they were about to lose focus.
Brazil 2014 was probably the center back's last appearance in a World Cup. Miguel Herrera needs to find someone who can replace him, both as a footballer and as a leader.
This Is the Begining of a New Era
Miguel Herrera has four years to put together a powerful team that will represent the country in Russia 2018.
El Piojo has enough time to integrate players such as Ulises Davila, Jesus Manuel Corona, Carlos Fierro, Antonio Briseno and Marco Bueno to the squad.
The new playing style, which includes a lot of runs through the flanks and ball possession, plus a set of players whose mindset is completely different from what we have seen—mainly because they have won some of the most prestigious youth tournaments—will be key.
Brazil 2014 was only the tip of the iceberg.
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