FOX Soccer Exclusive
Mexico must continue to work
Forget about pomp and circumstance, tiki-taka and the beautiful game. Mexicans everywhere would have welcomed those developments after the frustrations and the tribulations of the past few months, but they were ultimately superfluous on this particular occasion. El Tri instead needed fundamental signs of growth against Canada on Thursday night, reasons to believe that something better loomed on the horizon.
This sometimes nervous and eventually comfortable 2-0 victory over a committed and resolute Canadian outfit met those minimal standards. More to the point, it provided the necessary boost to the wounded morale and revealed enough about this squad to suggest better days may lay ahead as this Gold Cup churns onward.
"We're relieved, of course, because of the way we played more than the result," Mexico forward Rafael Márquez Lugo said. "I think you saw another face of Mexico from the Mexico that played against Panama and the Mexico that played tonight. The team tonight was more like Mexico: more intense, better on the ball, more creative. I think we saw the Mexico everybody wants to see in this tournament."
The latter statement probably falls wide of the mark even for those wearing the greenest of green-tinted glasses, but the commentary on this effort – embodied by high pressure throughout and propelled to victory through Raúl Jiménez's first goal for El Tri shortly before halftime and a dubious Marco Fabián penalty after the break – rang true for a side desperate to atone for the loss to Panama on Sunday.
In the wake of that harrowing defeat, this battered and revamped side – bombarded by criticism from home and hindered by its lack of experience at this level – could have buckled. It instead adhered to its task in the wake of a better than anticipated opponent and finally sealed an expected result after months of faltering in similar circumstances.
Mexico coach José Manuel de la Torre altered his side by returning to a 4-4-2 setup – complete with Fabián and the lively Luis Montes pushing high on the flanks and Marquez Lugo sliding deep into midfield to pick up the ball in possession – and making three changes from the defeat. He reaped the anticipated benefits when his charges combined more frequently and posed more of a threat in the attacking third.
It did not, however, yield a completely convincing display. A poor spell after the bright opening period permitted Canada to establish a foothold in the game. The work in the final third still lacked the necessary incisiveness despite the presence of several attacking players on the field. And the defense wobbled a bit when Canada – barely a threat from the run of play – stood over set pieces.
"We improved on many things, but we are still missing a few others," de la Torre said in his native Spanish. "We can do more in the attack. We not only need to control the possession, but we need to create more opportunities and actually conclude those opportunities as well."
This performance leaves plenty of room for improvement against Martinique in Denver on Sunday, but it also provides a reasonably solid platform to build upon for a group in need of a firm foundation. One victory won't quell all of the doubters or solve all of the concerns within the ranks, but it does provide a bit of belief and some encouragement for the rigorous tests ahead. And that conviction remains an important piece of the equation moving forward as Mexico attempts to look more like Mexico should with each passing match.
"I feel great, first of all, because we took three points from this match, a really hard match," Mexico defender Miguel Layún said. "That's important for our confidence. We have been working hard. Things haven't gone as well as we've wanted, but this reminds us that we can do great things. We hope we can have a better game on Sunday."
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