20
Nov

Five points from Mexico’s World Cup qualifying win vs. New Zealand

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Mexico complete its escape from the abyss in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Most of the hard work occurred a week ago at the Azteca, but the 4-2 triumph in Wellington dispatched New Zealand for good and guaranteed El Tri’s place in the World Cup draw next month.

The two-legged victory bolstered Miguel Herrera’s considerable claims for a full-time appointment and rescued this sputtering qualifying mission at the last possible instant. Oribe Peralta grabbed a first-half hat trick to erase any lingering doubts, but the second half — peculiar as it was — could prove more useful to Herrera as he starts to plot the next step.

Each move from now until next summer will prove crucial. Herrera must accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. And he must weigh a few of the take-home points from this second leg at Westpac Stadium along the way with him to achieve those ends:

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1. Directness works for this group: Mexico must figure out what it can take from this modest test and apply to more rigorous examinations. Herrera’s emphasis on playing quickly through midfield and providing service behind the line should stick. This team must counterattack deftly against better opponents. This setup — a 5-3-2 formation reliant on overlapping wingbacks and tidy passing sequences — should fare well enough if Herrera can insert one or two players capable of increasing the tempo even further.

2. Carlos Pena makes everything tick …: El Tri labored through this year with a central midfield incapable of providing the incisive pass and unwilling to join the attack at the proper junctures. Pena eradicated those concerns and finally transferred his domestic effectiveness to the international scene. His relentless vertical running through midfield makes Mexico more potent and offers a necessary dimension against more diverse opposition. His clever feed to Peralta for the opener showed he possesses the necessary guile to play through the lines, too.

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3. … and Peralta makes everything worthwhile: The streamlined approach through midfield only works if the forwards hold up the ball usefully and polish off the chances presented to them efficiently. Peralta earned top marks in both departments during both legs. He brings other players into attacking sequences and then moves intelligently into spots where he can convert in front of goal. His place in this lineup — barring a recurrence of those troublesome knee complaints — looks assured for the moment.

4. Late reminders underscore persistent defensive concerns: Herrera expects his three central defenders to establish a resolute base for his side to venture forward. The past three matches suggest this personnel group simply isn’t sufficient to fulfill that role against stronger competition. New Zealand played behind Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela far too easily given the paucity of genuine quality in its ranks. Rory Fallon’s goal, in particular, sounded a loud warning for trouble ahead. This stopgap trio needs reinforcements to cope with more astute players capable of punishing Mexico for its inability to cope with clever runs or tend to space properly.

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5. Time to make peace with the foreign contingent: The late wobbles in this second leg owed much to New Zealand’s persistence in Ricki Herbert’s final match in charge, but they also reinforced the need for further strengthening over the next few months. Herrera cannot afford to lean on a domestic core next summer. He must find a way to integrate Giovani dos Santos, Javier Hernández and Héctor Moreno into this revamped setup. And he needs to concoct a plan to persuade the exiled Carlos Vela to return to the fold as well. Those four players make Mexico a better and more complete outfit. It is now down to Herrera to ensure they carve out meaningful roles and spark El Tri to success in Brazil.

Images provided by Getty.

31
Oct

Five points: Mexico vs. Finland friendly

Mexico interim boss Miguel Herrera entered his only friendly prior to the World Cup playoff with New Zealand in search of evidence.

Herrera declared himself relatively pleased in the wake of the 4-2 triumph over Finland in San Diego, but the totality of the knowledge gained will give him plenty of room for pause. The switch to a 5-3-2 setup and the turnover in personnel inspired the expected uptick in certain areas without erasing all of the lingering problems exposed over the course of the past year.

In the buildup to the two-legged tie next month, Herrera must ponder a few crucial points from this match as he prepares El Tri for an unorthodox test:

1. The most important shift occurred on the ball in the attacking half: Mexico often bogs down when the opposition sets out its stall. The work in possession is tidy enough, but it often lacks the necessary creativity and thrust to break down an organized defense from the run of play. Herrera addressed the concern by directing his players to move more swiftly toward goal. The extra impetus – combined with decent width from the wingbacks – inspired more incisiveness in the final third. It is a tactic Mexico should embrace in the short term, given New Zealand’s willingness to pack numbers behind the ball.

2. No player benefited from the adjustments more than Carlos Peña: The industrious midfielder storms through midfield time and time again for Club León. His driving runs against the Finns – including the work to prompt and score Mexico’s second – provided the spark required to make this new setup hum.

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3. The search for a creative influence continues: Luis Montes featured from the start in a role previously earmarked for Lucas Lobos (withdrew due to family matters) and Rubens Sambueza (ruled ineligible by FIFA). Montes influenced the game in the early stages with his work in the buildup to the first two goals, but he faded out of it after that point. Sinha replaced him during the second half and struggled to conjure up chances. Herrera must locate a creative force to aid the efforts to break down New Zealand. Otherwise, Mexico may labor to knock down the door yet again.

4. Javier Hernández remains a key figure up front: Herrera continues to foreshadow rather limited involvement for his European-based players against New Zealand, but he should include Chicharito in his plans. The predatory striker presents more consistent danger in and around the penalty area than his chief competitor, Raúl Jiménez. The combination of Hernández on the prowl early with Oribe Peralta (a mandatory inclusion at this point) and Jiménez over the top late looks like Mexico’s best option up front at the moment.

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5. Rickety defense needs reinforcements: The introduction of a third center back did not shore up the persistent issues in defense. There were issues with spacing and stepping all night against a rather impotent Finland side. Both concerns present significant danger given the dearth of pace in the trio of Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela. Herrera ruled out Diego Reyes – a good fit given his familiarity with the system – as a potential savior after the match. If Reyes isn’t coming, then El Tri must opt for Héctor Moreno and search for other alternatives to strengthen a defensive unit that cannot afford to give the All Whites a foothold in Mexico City.

(Images courtesy: Getty Images)