29
Jan

Five points learned from Mexico’s 4-0 victory over Korea Republic

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1. Miguel Herrera places his fringe players in a position to succeed… : Herrera revealed his plans to experiment by posting his starting XI on Twitter Tuesday night. The sage decision to blend core players (Rafa Márquez, Carlos Peña and Oribe Peralta) with fresh faces (Rodolfo Pizarro, Alan Pulido and José Juan Vázquez) offered a timely chance to rifle through the deeper end of the squad and sift through potential options.

2. … and they did about as well as expected: Korea Republic posed problems with its industry and its willingness to operate at a high tempo. Mexico coped with those concerns with some proficiency and eventually placed the Koreans under pressure by using the wide areas. The balance of the game allowed some players to impress. Miguel Ponce capped his impressive 45-minute audition at left wing by supplying a teasing cross for Oribe Peralta’s well-taken opener. Pulido smashed home from close range in first half stoppage time to mark his debut with a goal and then struck twice more in the late stages to grab his hat trick. Most of the other contenders clamoring for a place in the plans adjusted well enough to the demands of the game without bolstering or harming their chances.

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3. Carlos Peña remains the integral piece in midfield: Peña once again drove El Tri toward goal during his first-half appearance. His driving runs attract the opposition and create lanes for others to exploit. The León man doesn’t always hit the perfect pass, but he more than makes up for it by marauding into the opposing penalty area and neatly switching the point of attack. If only the other choices in midfield — Isaac Brizuela in an unfamiliar central role (though his run on the third goal was sublime), then usual partner Luis Montes after the interval — could meet the standard he sets.

4. Where does Diego Reyes fit in the pecking order?: Reyes muddled through this assignment with the proficiency expected of a player lacking match practice. He handled his duties well enough on the night, but he often showed his rust at inopportune junctures. Herrera wisely left him on the field for the full 90 minutes to hone his sharpness a bit. Reyes even assumed the armband from Márquez during the second half. At this point, it looks like Reyes will find his way into the squad. Whether he can carve out a place in the starting XI likely hinges on his ability to force his way into the reckoning at Porto during the second half of the season.

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5. Set piece defending remains a significant concern: Korea Republic spurned two glorious chances to take the lead. Both of the opportunities came from poor marking on set pieces. Korea’s profligacy mirrored its lack of incisiveness and underscored El Tri’s lingering concerns about attentiveness in dead ball situations. Herrera must sort out the problem in short order to avoid potentially drastic consequences in tighter matches at the World Cup.

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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13
Dec

Liga MX Apertura Final: Leon defeats Club America in first leg clash

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Club León took a substantive step toward its sixth title with a 2-0 victory over holders Club América in the first leg of the Liga MX Apertura final on Thursday night.

Carlos Peña opened the scoring inside the opening quarter of an hour to offer León a tangible foothold from its fine first half display. América responded after the interval, but Mauro Boselli sumptuously chipped home the critical second in the final 15 minutes to secure a positive result at the Nou Camp.

The margin of victory affords León a modest cushion ahead of the second leg at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night. América possess ample motivation – the prospect of a record 12th title in Miguel Herrera’s final game in charge – to overturn the deficit. Las Águilas’ formidable home record in Mexico City offers hope of procuring the result required to claim a second championship in succession, but there is still plenty of work ahead for the holders.

Both teams will spend the next two days recovering before the return leg in the capital on Sunday. They will assess a few of the key points — including the five to follow here — as they plot their path to the summit of Mexican soccer.

1. León stamps its intent early: The home side grasped control of the first half from the outset. The back-and-forth tempo encouraged León to push numbers forward and unsettle América’s back five. América plays directly and quickly, but the cadence of the early stages moved too quickly for the holders. León used that brisk pace to create chances and eventually prompt the opening goal.

2. Peña imposes his will: Peña exposed Herrera’s decision to name both Osvaldo Martínez and Rubens Sambueza in his midfield three with his tireless industry in the center of the park. His relentless work piled pressure on América every time he touched the ball. His work on the opening goal — seeing a loose clearance from a corner kick, sprinting to the ball in front of his man and thumping it past Moisés Muñoz from the edge of the penalty area — neatly captured his considerable contributions on the evening.

3. América responds after the break: Herrera motivated his side at the interval and watched his players improve substantially at the star of the second half. By obtaining more of the ball and using it more judiciously, The visitors prevented León from turning the match into a track meet once more. The improved width and the reinforced work through the middle created opportunities. Martínez even forced a good save from the unsteady William Yarbrough on a half-volley. It just didn’t lead to the goal required to consolidate after such a promising spell.

4. Boselli punishes América for its inability to grab the equalizer: The second goal came from a typically determined Peña run through the middle. Maza Rodríguez intervened and tackled the ball straight into Boselli’s path. The former Wigan striker allowed the ball to slide all the way across his body before he clipped it neatly over Munoz for the second. His precise display of skill rescued an otherwise mundane half for León and sent the home side into a promising position.

5. León might rue the chances squandered in the final stages: América buckled in the wake of Boselli’s goal. León perked up considerably given the additional impetus. It nearly caught Muñoz out on one or two occasions, but a backward header from an unsuspecting Rodríguez glanced over the bar in the waning seconds of the game. The difference between a two-goal and a three-goal deficit is a substantial one. If América storms out as expected on Sunday evening, then León might lament its inability to kill off this tie on home soil.

12
Dec

Liga MX 2013 Apertura Final: Leon v Club America Preview

Intrigue permeates through the first leg of the Liguilla final. This spectacle hardly needs reinforcing given the attention lavished upon the battle for the Mexican title, but this pairing between Club América and Club León somehow manages the feat.

The story lines paint a picture worth following. América is poised to lift its record 12th championship and win back-to-back titles under departing manager Miguel Herrera. León is primed to intercede with its mixture of emerging talents and savvy veterans.

It is a clash of old and new with one clever twist: Herrera directed Mexico to the World Cup using a combination of core players from both teams. He integrated Rafa Márquez, Luis Montes and Carlos Peña into the base of his title-winning side to form the foundation during his interim spell in charge. The results produced a comprehensive victory over New Zealand in a two-legged World Cup playoff in November and provided a template for the upcoming trip to Brazil.

Herrera will turn his attention to El Tri’s excursion after this tie, but he must lead Las Aguilas past his future charges to fulfill his last remaining objective before he departs. The budding relationship between the involved parties adds an extra layer of familiarity to a series where every slight edge matters.

The two teams enter this affair on fairly level pegging. León’s incisive attack — fueled from midfield by Montes and Peña and topped by Mauro Boselli up front to produce 12 goals in four Liguilla matches — poses a massive threat. América leans on its direct play from back to front and its resolute defensive core (on display in the 2-0 home victory against Toluca to keep the title defense in charge) to pressure and stifle the opposition.

In a final with such narrow margins between the adversaries, the outcome could turn on Herrera’s considerable knowledge of his three national team players or their ability to probe the weaknesses of the system they implement on international duty. The first leg may not play out according to that plan, but the mere presence of those links bodes well for El Tri as Herrera finishes up his duties with América and prepares to build his squad for the World Cup.

—Images provided by Getty.

3
Dec

What does Miguel Herrera do now?

imageHerrera was confirmed to stay on as Mexico’s World Cup manager on Monday (Images: Reuters)

Mexico boss Miguel Herrera earned a chance to take El Tri to Brazil by dispatching New Zealand next month. His instant success prompted FMF executives and Liga MX owners to remove his interim tag on Monday and trust him with the mighty task of leading his country into the World Cup.

Herrera must guide Mexico through a convoluted and tricky path between the draw in Bahia on Friday and the first match at an undisclosed location next June. The long and arduous road will determine whether this proud country extends its record of success (five consecutive appearances in the round of 16) or succumbs to the frailties exposed by the Hexagonal.

There is no time to waste to ensure the former scenario ultimately prevails. Herrera will draw up his list of priorities once he completes his Liguilla duties. It should read something like this:

1. Reach an accord with Carlos Vela: The exiled Real Sociedad star functions as an alluring distraction from the matters at hand. Herrera needs his ability to supply additional thrust in the final third. He must figure out a way to tempt Vela back into the fold without sacrificing the boundaries established during his interim tenure. If he cannot coax Vela back to national team duty, then he must draw a firm line under the situation to avoid the recurring sideshows as the preparations commence in earnest.

2. Form the European-based foundation: Vela’s status dovetails neatly with the uncertainty permeating through the rest of the stars flourishing abroad. Herrera omitted every last one of them from the excursion against New Zealand. He cannot afford such a draconian stand ahead of the trip to Brazil, but he must also weigh the benefits, the drawbacks and the realities of their individual situations as well. The inclusions of Giovani dos Santos (creativity), Javier Hernández (precision) and Héctor Moreno (solidity) appear somewhat compulsory given the talent pool. Herrera can adopt a more pragmatic approach to the likes of Javier Aquino, Jesús Corona, Andrés Guardado, Héctor Herrera, Guillermo Ochoa and Diego Reyes as he assesses his options and contemplates how to build a cohesive unit.

imageChicharito Hernandez figures to be a big part of El Tri’s World Cup plans

3. Identify the vital holdovers: The number of foreign-based players included naturally restricts the places available to players selected for the two-legged triumph over New Zealand. A few of those players – Miguel Layún, Carlos Peña and Oribe Peralta feature on that list at the moment – will keep their places. Several others will drop down the pecking order or out of the reckoning entirely. Herrera cannot afford to allow sentiment to take hold here: he must retain only the players capable of transitioning to a higher, World Cup-bound standard.

4. Reinforce the fundamental principles: Herrera can help his own cause by retaining a few of the players from the successful playoff voyage to espouse his ideas over the next few months. The departing Club América manager cultivated a specific approach within his 5-3-2 setup and installed it for the national team prior to the two matches against the All Whites. The presence of several América stalwarts made the process a bit easier. The increased familiarity among the potential squad options permits Herrera to lean on those players for support as he attempts to integrate his foreign-based players into the defined roles suited to their talents.

5. Put those ideas into practice: The last prong could prove the most troublesome given the dearth of FIFA dates between now and the start of the World Cup next June. Herrera must wring every last bit of usefulness out of the scheduled friendly for domestic-based players against South Korea in San Antonio on Jan. 29 and then schedule other rigorous tests along the way to examine his options. The magnitude of the task ahead ensures he cannot afford to waste any opportunity to mold this side in his own image.

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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.

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.

13
Nov

Five points: Mexico v New Zealand, World Cup Qualifying Playoff

Mexico’s place in the World Cup should not rest upon success in a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. This tiresome process should have ended long ago. It has not for a host of reasons. And the ongoing series of failures ensures El Tri still has work to do to secure a place in Brazil next summer.

It is not an easy task, either. New Zealand offers committed and organized opposition. Mexico once again boasts a significant edge in technical ability, but it must close the difference in other, more rudimentary departments in order to see off the All Whites and travel to Wellington next week with a hefty advantage in tow.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera expects his charges to emerge victorious at Estadio Azteca. If they adhere to the game plan and note these five points along the way, then they should finally meet expectations and place both hands on a World Cup berth before leaving Mexico City:

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