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.

11
Oct

Five points: Mexico vs. Panama

Previous failures have forced Mexico in a must-win position against Panama tonight. El Tri cannot afford a fifth consecutive match without a victory at Estadio Azteca. Anything less than the full complement of points against the Canaleros will place Mexico in the unenviable position of requiring help from the United States in Panama City on Tuesday to secure a place in a World Cup playoff against New Zealand next month. image

Victor Manuel Vucetich addresses the media. (Photo: Miguel Tovar/Getty Images)

In order to avoid that awkward situation and maintain control of its own destiny, Mexico must absorb the crippling pressure and produce its best home performance of the Hexagonal to dispatch a canny and motivated Panamanian outfit. Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich will hope these five factors spur Mexico to the display required to grab hold of its World Cup hopes.

1. Establish a solid foundation: The recent struggles to score at Estadio Azteca will encourage Mexico to push additional numbers into the attacking half in a bid to rectify the concern. It cannot do so without a coherent plan to adjust its defensive shape accordingly. Vucetich said on Thursday he wants his side to play aggressively without losing the necessary balance in the back. He will likely aid the process by plumping for a 4-4-2 formation to match Julio Dely Valdes’ preferred tactical setup and provide some of the required solidity. The rest will come down to how the players adhere to the instructions set forth and remember the potential pain created by pursuing the game too ardently.

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Giovani dos Santos in training. (Photo: Miguel Tovar/Getty Images)

2. Commit the right numbers forward at the right times: Vucetich is expected to select Miguel Layún and Jorge Torres Nilo at fullback to boost El Tri’s options in the wide areas. Both players offer more going forward than they do inside their own third. Panama will look to exploit the space created by their forays into the attacking half by moving quickly to exploit the vacated spaces. Mexico must ensure those excursions do not create counterattacking situations where expected central defenders Hugo Ayala and Rafa Márquez must confront the Panamanian forwards – particularly the mobile Gabriel Torres, a likely starter – one-versus-one.

3. Overload the wide areas to create operating room: Mexico functions best when it receives quality contributions on the flanks. In this projected setup, with Giovani dos Santos and Christian Giménez likely to feature as nominal wide players with established tendencies to drift inside, the onus will fall on Layun and Torres Nilo to overlap frequently and provide width. The extra man out wide does a couple of things for El Tri: it creates two-versus-one opportunities with the midfielders to exploit the suspect Panamanian fullbacks and it stretches the normally compact Panamanian shape. It looks likely to work on paper, but it must succeed in practice, too. Layún and Torres Nilo must give Panama a reason to adjust and compensate to their presence by combining well and providing accurate service into the penalty area.

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Oribe Peralta and Javier Hernández prepare to face Panama (Photo: Omar Torres/Getty Images)

4. Lean on Oribe Peralta to pull everything together: The Santos Laguna man is expected to partner Javier Hernández up front for Mexico. He operates a bit different than Chicharito does: he is a capable conduit willing to drop off the line to facilitate play and permit other players (in this instance, likely central midfield inclusion and club teammate Carlos Peña) to leap into the attack. His aerial presence – he poses a significant danger despite not boasting the size of a prototypical target man – provides a more direct route to goal if required, too. If Peralta can find a way to influence the game (and perhaps even drag Felipe Baloy a step or two out of position along the way), then Mexico stands a good chance of procuring the points.

5. Trust the special players to make a difference: Vucetich will send out El Tri with a more coherent tactical approach than José Manuel de la Torre ever mustered, but he still must rely on his players to perform. The onus falls upon dos Santos and Hernández – the two superlative players in this squad – to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and spur Mexico to the sort of showing missing so far in this Hexagonal. The two stars must inspire an across-the-board improvement to ensure Mexico retains its World Cup hopes at least through the weekend.

6
Oct

Vucetich with decisions to make after Mexico roster announcement

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Image courtesy of Mexsport

Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich spent the past few weeks evaluating his domestic options ahead of the critical pair of World Cup qualifiers against Panama (Friday in Mexico City) and Costa Rica (Oct. 15 in San José).

It appears he still needs a little more time to decide his course of action.

Vucetich named a 26-man squad for the upcoming pair of qualifiers, three more than the usual allotment. He plans to pare the group down to 23 one day prior to each qualifier to meet FIFA regulations and then name his matchday squad accordingly.

At this perilous stage, every day counts. Vucetich will sort through the following choices over the next few days in a bid to reach the conclusions required to keep El Tri’s hopes of a place in Brazil alive.

Goalkeepers: Jose de Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (AC Ajaccio/FRA), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Ochoa should reclaim the number one shirt with the pecking order established in the wake of Jonathan Orozco’s shoulder injury. Orozco represented a wild card of sorts given his extensive history with Vucetich, but Ochoa’s form in Ligue 1 and Corona’s recent struggles dictate the inclusion of the Ajaccio man.

Defenders: Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Miguel Layún (Club América), Jonny Magallón (Club León), Rafael Márquez (Club León), Severo Meza (Monterrey), Hiram Mier (Monterrey), Carlos Salcido (Tigres) Jorge Torres Nilo (Tigres)

Vucetich faces a number of selection posers in his back four with Héctor Moreno (hamstring) and Diego Reyes (lack of match practice) omitted. Márquez is expected to step straight back into the starting XI after a lengthy absence from El Tri and his recent form for León. The identity of his partner remains less certain with Ayala perhaps ahead of Magallón to rectify mobility concerns. Layún and Torres Nilo offer ambitious options at either fullback slot, while Meza, Mier and Salcido represent more conservative selections. The stakes suggest a more aggressive deportment in that area with Layún’s recent displays creating a strong case for inclusion.

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