21
Jun

Mexico’s stars relax by playing beach soccer with Brazilian locals

Fresh from Tuesday’s valiant 0-0 draw with Brazil, the Mexico squad decided to show off their beach soccer skills. Instead of preparing for the crucial clash with Group A rivals Croatia on Monday, the players stripped down to their Speedos and invited some lucky locals to join in the fun:

El Tri forward Marco Fabian looked most at home on the shore — his silky flicks and delicate touches wowed spectators. Mexican teammate Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez was given a stint between the sticks. On this showing, the Little Pea should stick to what he does best — goal poaching:

When the sandy spectacle reached its climax, the players mingled with other locals, signing autographs and posing for photos. All the players came away from the beach unscathed, to the delight of Mexican supporters everywhere.

(H/T: NESN)

23
Jan

Miguel Herrera expands his horizons as Mexico prepares for Korea Republic friendly

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Mexico manager Miguel Herrera cast aside his América-centric approach and expanded his horizons ahead of the upcoming friendly with Korea Republic.

Instead of relying on his former charges to form the foundation of the national side, Herrera adopted a more inclusive stance to cobble together his 21-man squad for the one-off match in San Antonio on Wednesday. He plucked several top performers from other Liga MX sides and tempted Diego Reyes to cross the pond in the middle of the European season.

The shift away from the one-club approach marks a natural evolution for Herrera to mark the first match since he took permanent control. His brief changed from the moment Mexico qualified in Wellington in November. The expedient group compiled for that challenge does not fit the task ahead in Brazil. And now it is down to Herrera to figure out how to assemble his roster with the proper blend of domestic and foreign-based players to navigate El Tri to the knockout stages.

This brief excursion to Texas constitutes the first chance to advance toward that objective. Herrera chose these players to help him along the way:

Goalkeepers: Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Herrera omitted Moisés Muñoz to run the rule over Corona and Talavera to sort out the increasingly muddled chase for the number one shirt. Corona bolstered his credentials with a series of assured displays under José Manuel de la Torre during the Hexagonal, but he lost his place to Guillermo Ochoa under rather controversial circumstances and slipped down the pecking order. Talavera retained his spot in the reckoning with his performances with Toluca. At this stage, both men — assuming Muñoz and Ochoa fit into Herrera’s plans moving forward — are fighting for one spot.

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19
Nov

Mexico’s pursuit of happiness close to fruition

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Mexico accomplished the hard work in its 5-1 thrashing of New Zealand at the Azteca a week ago. The comprehensive display on home soil rendered this return leg in Wellington academic. After a long, hard slog through qualifying, El Tri will finally book its World Cup place in the wee hours on Wednesday morning.

New Zealand will huff and puff to somehow close the chasm between the two sides at the Westpac Stadium, but the outcome of this two-legged affair is essentially certain. The imminent triumph does not mean this second leg is entirely worthless for Mexico, though.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera faces a difficult task over the next few months to transition El Tri from a side capable of defeating the All Whites over two legs to a squad capable of marching through the rigors in Brazil next summer. Here are five points to monitor from this second leg with that objective in mind:

1. Application matters first and foremost: This trek halfway across the world isn’t a vacation. Mexico cannot simply afford to turn up and collect its World Cup berth in defeat. El Tri wasted far too much time during the Hexagonal to squander this opportunity. Herrera must goad his players into performing on the day and stating their claims for inclusion as this group evolves over the next few months.

2. Watch the weak spots: Herrera omitted his European-based players for this exercise. He cannot afford to keep them stranded in the cold given the questions in his starting XI. Potential problems exist in seemingly every department in this team. Several candidates stepped forward with their displays in Mexico City, but those first steps will not erase the concerns about the defensive solidity and the inherent dearth of creativity within this group.

3. Thank the All Whites for their help … : New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert announced he would include Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz in his starting XI for this impossible rescue mission on Monday. His decision to field an unexpectedly aggressive 4-4-2 setup (these are the All Whites, after all) should place the rickety Mexican defense under some pressure. New Zealand won’t present a rigorous examination by any means, but this fixture does provide Herrera with an opportunity to gather more evidence about whether this unit – and particularly the central defensive trio of Rafa Márquez, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela – is suited to more difficult assignments.

4. … and keep an eye on the counter: The implementation of Herrera’s 5-3-2 formation provides Mexico with the directness necessary to trouble teams on the break next summer. New Zealand isn’t a go for broke sort of side, but the All Whites will push the fullbacks and the wingers higher in a desperate bid to turn around the tie. El Tri must find a way to exploit that space – preferably through wingbacks Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún – to punish the All Whites and show the necessary tools to pull apart better sides.

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5. Examine Raúl Jiménez’s contributions carefully: The promising striker faces considerable competition for his place with Aldo de Nigris in the squad and Javier Hernández looming as a potential replacement down the line. His skills at this stage – mostly predicated on darting behind the line and stretching the field vertically – offer him a chance to thrive in this situation if selected again. He must take his opening to bolster his own chances moving forward.

Images provided by Getty

13
Nov

Five Points: Mexico 5, New Zealand 1

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(Image: Getty Images)

Mexico essentially booked its place in Brazil with an emphatic 5-1 victory over New Zealand on Wednesday afternoon.

El Tri finally emerged from its doldrums and swept aside the overwhelmed All Whites to remove any doubt from this potentially tricky tie. Interim boss Miguel Herrera relied on his Club América stalwarts and influential striker Oribe Peralta to cobble together the comprehensive display and render the return leg in Wellington moot.

How did Mexico cast aside its recent struggles and end New Zealand’s hopes of an upset? These five points offer an explanation of the resounding victory at the Azteca:

1. Patience yields production: Mexico probably could have and should have pushed the tempo a bit higher in the early stages, but it instead used its possession wisely and waited for New Zealand to crack. The composure offered a stark contrast to the desperate efforts earlier in the year and reaped significant dividends when the All Whites eventually crumbled.

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(Image: Getty Images)

2. Get it wide, get it into the box: Herrera tasked Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún with pushing high up the flanks and supplying Peralta and Raul Jiménez. Time and time again, they fulfilled their brief. Their willingness to operate in advanced locations pulled apart New Zealand’s shape horizontally (a 3-4-3 on paper that played like a 5-4-1 in practice) and sent them running into dangerous areas. Aguilar scored the first by continuing his run at the back post, while Layún provided the service on both Peralta goals from the left flank.

3. Rely on diagonals to stretch the field … : New Zealand conceded possession and sat deeply for much of this game, but it found itself exposed by Rafa Márquez’s penchant to hit diagonals from right to left. Márquez created the third and fourth goals by playing directly from back to front and switching the point of attack to provide space for Layún to serve into the penalty area. Credit Márquez for leaning on his considerable technical ability to exploit the weakness, but the All Whites really should not have allowed that sort of direct play to unlock its rearguard.

 

(Image: Getty Images)

4. … and take advantage of set pieces: Mexico took charge from dead ball situations – particularly on corner kicks – by ceding some ground to the All Whites and then constructing alternative routes to goal. The most profitable line of inquiry came from playing quickly. New Zealand’s zonal marking system reacted poorly to short corners: the visitors often adopted static positions to cope with developing and fluid situations. The lack of awareness allowed Mexico to curl dangerous balls into the penalty area and score the first and fifth goals from dead ball situations. It proved a rather jarring contradiction to the All Whites’ expected superiority in this department.

5. In this test of depth, Mexico emerged with a resounding victory: Both teams entered this tie at something less than full strength. Herrera left out his European-based players to build a cohesive unit over an extended period of time. New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert omitted injured captain Winston Reid (ankle) and relegated the recovering Marco Rojas and Shane Smeltz to the bench.

The gap between the middle of the two player pools showed in this game: Herrera plumped for in-form Liga MX players to carry the day, while Herbert relied on A-League standouts, out-of-contract players and New Zealand-based semi-professionals to fill his void. New Zealand needed the discipline, the fitness and the structure supplied by its stars to conjure up the Herculean performance required to snatch a result at the Azteca. On this day, the All Whites simply did not have the players to compete for 90 minutes. And it showed.

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)

15
Oct

Five key points: Costa Rica vs Mexico

A tortured Hexagonal road comes down to this one match for Mexico: a point or better in Costa Rica tonight guarantees the quest for a berth at next summer’s World Cup to continue for at least a few more weeks.

Mexico will expect to claim the draw required to secure a playoff with New Zealand next month and perhaps even snatch the victory necessary to apply pressure on Honduras, who travel to Jamaica. El Tri enjoys a fine record in Costa Rica (three consecutive victories in World Cup qualifiers), while the hosts possess little incentive to perform with their place in Brazil already booked.

Costa Rica will still attempt to spoil Mexico’s fun, though. It is a threat the visitors must take seriously. At this stage of the proceedings, there isn’t any room for error. El Tri must heed these fundamental tenets in order to avoid the ultimate failure by the end of Tuesday night.

1. Weigh any personnel changes carefully: Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich tailors his tactics to fit the situation at hand. He chose a 4-4-2 formation for the 2-1 victory against Panama on Friday, but he could opt for another setup – perhaps by dropping a striker and inserting a central midfielder to counter the Ticos’ usual 5-3-2 alignment – to reinforce the defensive structure away from home. The tinkering comes with a caveat, though: any potential alterations – even the prospect of keeping the 4-4-2 and replacing Javier Hernández with Raúl Jiménez in a nod to popular sentiment – could disrupt the fragile progress made during the early stages of the new regime.

2. Focus on the task at hand: Mexico controls its destiny: a draw in Costa Rica clinches a two-legged tie against the All Whites next month. Nothing else – not the United States’ visit to Panama and the help it could lend, nor the Honduras-Jamaica game and the potential bounty it could reap – matters. Any distractions from the instant duties within their direct purview could prove very, very costly indeed.

3. Remember the circumstances: Composure and concentration represent the pillars of a successful performance in these fraught conditions. Even a momentary drop can lead to chaos, particularly with Costa Rica’s ability to pose problems on the break and from set pieces. Mexico must maintain the proper application for the duration of the affair – again, a lingering problem for this group that almost dashed any hopes of a World Cup place on Friday – to avoid disaster.

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Ticos fans are relishing the chance to ruin Mexico’s World Cup hopes.


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13
Oct

Still plenty of work ahead for Mexico

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Image courtesy Mexsport Sports Agency

Raúl Jiménez’s stunning bicycle kick constituted just one spectacular moment in Mexico’s 2-1 victory over Panama on Friday night. But Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich must process more than just the fallout from Jiménez’s stunning late winner. There is plenty of work still ahead for El Tri over the next few days. A place in the World Cup playoff against New Zealand isn’t assured just yet.

 

Only a result in Costa Rica on Tuesday will continue the salvage work — considerably aided by Jiménez’s moment of brilliance — and keep those hopes of a trip to Brazil next summer alive. In order to move forward in their quest, Vucetich and his players must address the positives and negatives from a night they will never forget.

1. Keep the ambition and the shape: Mexico faces a different challenge requiring a more modest deportment when it takes the field in San José, but its desperation-induced win was a refreshing change from the impotence displayed under José Manuel de la Torre. Vucetich underscored his tactical acumen by plumping for a 4-4-2 setup and tailoring it to the players at his disposal. The execution waned a bit in the second half, but the structure offers El Tri a foundation to build upon.

2. Herald the importance of overlapping fullbacks: Considerable space opened in midfield when Miguel Layún and Jorge Torres Nilo ventured into the attacking half. Layún and Torres Nilo supplied that additional dimension by creating room for Javier Aquino and Giovani dos Santos to cut toward the middle and providing good service from the wide areas. Vucetich can persist with the inverted wingers if he chooses, but his reliance on Layún and Torres Nilo appears compulsory at the moment. One caveat: both players must tend to their defensive duties more judiciously away from home.
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Image courtesy Getty Images


3. Reinforce the need to retain possession in midfield: Carlos Peña served as the primary offender in this department, though he certainly had some help along the way. Peña operates with the ambition and the fervor lacking in central midfield for much of this year, but his desire to stamp his imprint on the game often prompts him to concede possession in poor areas. Jesús Zavala covers for him well (more on that bit in a moment) without providing a permanent solution to this problem. Panama did not punish Mexico for this, but Costa Rica could do so on Tuesday.

4. Underscore the need to retain proper defensive shape: Zavala stood out as one of the top performers for El Tri because he adjusted to the demands of the game and played to the strengths of his teammates. Vucetich asked Zavala to operate from a deep-lying position in midfield and slide between centerbacks Hugo Ayala and Rafa Márquez in possession. By adding an auxiliary third center back into the mix, Mexico retained the proper numbers when Rafa Márquez stepped into midfield to distribute or the fullbacks meandered forward.

The calculus changes a bit away from home, though. Zavala will still drop from time to time, but the back four must retain its shape religiously. Rafa Márquez, in particular, must marshal his defense astutely in order to avoid the problems that led to Luis Tejada’s equalizer (primarily a poor clearing header from Ayala, but also poor adjustments to the quick change in possession) and submit the resolute display required to claim a point or three.image

Image courtesy Getty Images

5. Ponder where Chicharito fits into the mix: The clamor for Jiménez’s inclusion increased exponentially when he smashed home that bicycle kick. If he does feature from the start (a risky move that would reduce the problems he causes opponents with his speed late in games), then he would likely replace Javier Hernández in the starting XI. That decision, however, must be made carefully. Hernández functioned well enough with Oribe Peralta, played a neat one-two to arrange Mexico’s only goal from the run of play and posed a threat from time to time. His second half penalty miss betrayed his current dearth of confidence and match practice and counted against him, though.

Perhaps the best course of action for all involved parties – Hernández, Jiménez and Mexico – involves maintaining the newly established partnership and then bringing the young star off the bench. After all, that course of action produced that wonderful goal to win the match, didn’t it?

11
Oct

Raul Jimenez revives Mexico’s World Cup hopes with stunning golazo

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Image courtesy of Mexsport Sports Agency

Mexico needed a goal five minutes desperately from time to break the 1-1 stalemate with Panama. There were a million reasons for Raúl Jiménez to try something more practical when Fernando Arce played a diagonal ball into his feet.

And yet, Jimenez didn’t and all of Mexico will thank him for it.

Jimenez drifted into a yard of space at the edge of the penalty area. A clever touch, a deft turn and a stunning shot that injected life into Mexico’s World Cup plans.

Arce’s pass skipped off the surface en route and stripped away the preferred option. The ball approached Jiménez awkwardly, forcing him into a bad touch and presenting him with an gamble previously too audacious to consider.

Jiménez popped the ball up into the air. It ascended into the night sky seemingly in slow motion. He watched it climb with two Panamanian defenders at close attention. And then he summoned the courage to take the only remaining course of action.

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Image courtesy of Mexsport Sports Agency

As the ball peaked, Jiménez hurled himself into the air majestically and lashed his right boot toward the ball. The bicycle kick constitutes a desperate effort from this sort of distance, a last resort of strikers with no other alternatives. There is no room for error in the execution. The entire sequence — ball, leap and strike — must come off perfectly in order to give it a chance to succeed.

Jiménez did his part. He connected purely, swinging through with menace and precision. The ball jumped off his foot with the direction and the pace to freeze Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo in place.

Fate did the rest. Jiménez’s perfect confluence of movements carried the ball inside the near post and sparked the sort of celebrations only genuine salvation can bring. Jiménez peeled off toward the right side of the penalty area and reveled in what he had done with his teammates.

The appreciation will continue for some time to come given the magnitude of the 2-1 victory and the quality of the goal. Jiménez rescued Mexico on the night and sustained El Tri’s World Cup hopes for another few days. And he did it because he aspired toward brilliance and delivered in the most compelling way possible.

20
Jul

Gold Cup Recap: Mexico, Panama advance to semifinals

As expected, there were no upsets during Saturday’s CONCACAF’s Gold Cup action as Panama and Mexico both stamped their semifinals tickets.

El Tri, a six-time Gold Cup champion going for its third straight title, edged Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 behind Raul Jimenez’s 84th minute strike to help embattled manager Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre silence his critics for at least one night.

Though Mexico failed to produce a convincing win against the Caribbean nation, Mexican fans will undoubtedly take solace that their beloved national team will live to fight another day:

As for Julio Dely Valdes’ side, Los Canaleros didn’t need long to dispose a Cuban side who looked eager to continue their Gold Cup run after José Ciprian Alfonso opened matters with a beautiful first-touch volley in the 21st minute. Cuba’s lead, however, was short-lived as Panamanian forward Gabriel Torres increased his tournament tally to five goals after two quick strikes in the first half:

The wheels eventually came off for Cuba in the second half after Ariel Martinez was sent off justifiably by referee Mark Geiger for a ruthless challenge on Panama’s Blas Perez in the 58th minute:

Mexico will now face Panama in the Gold Cup semifinals on Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. If you recall, Panama upset Mexico 2-1 in a group match and El Tri will surely seek revenge for their hiccup at the Rose Bowl earlier this month.