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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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

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.