Mexico 2 Italy 1
June 03rd 2010 @ King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels
Mexico gave warning to its Group A opponents with a fine 2-1 victory over Italy in this World Cup warm-up match.
Mexico kicks off the tournament's opening game against hosts South Africa on June 11th and will go into it with confidence after dominating the world champions.
Italian manager Marcello Lippi sent out an attacking line-up featuring three strikers, Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta. The tactics almost paid off in the opening minutes when Iaquinta headed a corner against the crossbar.
As in the game against England, Mexico looked vulnerable facing high balls. Italian center-half Leonardo Bonucci had another free header from a corner later in the half, after Mexican goalkeeper Oscar Perez had tipped an Andrea Pirlo freekick over the crossbar.
But it was Mexico who dominated the first half. Coach Javier Aguirre’s line-up was based on a solid center with the experienced pairing of Rafael Marquez and Gerardo Torrado patrolling the space in front of the back four.
Up front, the youthful trio of Giovanni Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and Javier Hernandez had the Italian defense desperately trying to keep up with them.
Their verve got the early goal it deserved when Dos Santos dinked the ball behind a square Italian defense. Vela was swiftly onto it and slotted the ball past Gigi Buffon in the Italian goal. The Mexican pair continued to worry Italy with their sharp runs and link-up play. While Carlos Salcido went close with two efforts from distance. The second half saw Mexico bring on Pablo Barrera for Marquez, while Italy brought on midfielder Simone Pepe. Both had good chances to score almost immediately.
Barrera should have scored after a dreadful error by Cannavaro. The Italian captain played a pass behind his center-half partner Bonucci and Barrera nipped in to steal the ball. However his attempted chip beyond the on-rushing Buffon was poor.
At the other end Pepe had a volley blocked by the Mexican defense.
Barrera continued to cause Italy problems but couldn’t find any decent end product to his play. Vela did better with a great run down the left. His cross for Hernandez was perfect but the new Manchester United striker missed the ball with the goal at his mercy.
The game went through a lull as both sides made a series of substitutions. Two of these paid off for Mexico, when, with six minutes remaining, veteran star Cuauhtemoc Blanco played a beautiful pass behind the Italian defense.
Alberto Medina, who had replaced Dos Santos, controlled the ball with his head and smashed Mexico’s second past Buffon.
This spurred Italy to life and a free kick from the right again caused Mexico problems in the air. The ball dropped to Iaquinta whose shot cannoned off the post. The rebound eventually fell to Bonnuci, who bundled the ball home to make it 2-1. There was still time for Buffon to pull off a point blank save from Mexican substitute Andres Guardado before the referee blew the whistle on a satisfying game for Mexico.
What We Learned
Mexico will create chances, and if they improve their finishing, they have a great chance of qualifying from Group A. Javier Hernandez might not be ready for the big stage. They remain vulnerable to aerial attacks. Fortunately their Group A opponents aren’t the best placed teams to take advantage of that.
Guardado didn’t start here or against England. Is Aguirre just resting him or will he leave one of Mexico’s best players on the bench for the South Africa game?
The Italian back line looked very weak against pace and skill. Lucky for them that none of their Group F opponents have the same arsenal of tricky attackers that Mexico can call on.
With Mexico dominating possession, Italy failed to create many chances beyond a few dead ball situations.
If Pirlo is not on song, who will set up the goals? Starting with three strikers seemed to unbalance the side. Italy needs to get the ball wide more and use Iaquinta’s penalty box presence.