Liga MX champs!
Liga MX champs!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
By Kyle McCarthy
Duvier Riascos found a berth in the Copa Libertadores semifinals placed directly at his feet in Club Tijuana’s 1-1 draw at Atlético Mineiro on Thursday night.
Tijuana could not have asked for a better man to take the potentially decisive penalty kick in second half stoppage time. He took his first half opener – dipped in controversy after a pair of potential fouls at the other end went uncalled and dispatched in style at the end of an incisive counter – with the precision expected from a player of his caliber. And Leo Silva presented him with the chance for his second after he scythed makeshift forward Pablo Aguilar to the ground to halt a prototypical route one move with the seconds ticking away.
Riascos assumed responsibility for success or failure when he stepped up to the spot. He embarked on a lengthy run-up from outside the penalty area and thumped the ball straight down the middle with Mineiro goalkeeper Victor leaning to his right.
By Jonathan Wilson
Champions League results may, as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, have been a wake-up call for the Premier League. Yet, the strength of the English league was demonstrated by the passage of all three of its representatives to the quarterfinal of the Europa League.
Chelsea, Tottenham and Newcastle all endured some level of drama but all, in the end, survived. For those minded to care about such things, England stretched its lead over Germany in the UEFA coefficient table to 4.206 points.
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