HOUSTON - JANUARY 25: Carlos Salcido #3 of Mexico runs with the ball during the international friendly between Mexico and Venezuela at Reliant Stadium on January 25, 2012 in Houston, Texas. Mexico defeated Venezuela 3-1. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Mexican national team opened their 2012 international season the same way they closed 2011, victorious. A second half surge ended with a 3-1 victory and praise for Mexico's attitude and resiliency.
"Our attitude was to attack. We saw that from the first minute to the last," Mexican head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said. "These young kids want to play in any and every game for the national team, it showed in their resiliency."
This game marked the return of five notable figures suspended from international play due to various off-the-field indiscretions. Jesus Corona, Marco Fabian, Israel Jimenez, Nester Calderon and Javier Cortes returned to the national team as starters.
"This feels great," Fabian said. "I felt good playing and most of all we won and that’s what matters. I have to keep working so I can win a spot and that starts at the club level."
The rosters for both teams were based from their domestic leagues and the gulf in class was evident. Mexico dominated possession and proposed more attacking options. Venezuela started the game with four defenders and six midfielders in an unsuccessful attempt to control the pace of the game.
The first half had two clear scoring opportunities for Mexico. In the 10th minute, Oribe Peralta slid behind the Venezuela defense and tripped inside the box. Later in the 27th minute it was Peralta again who struck but lacked the final touch as his header bounced off the crossbar.
Venezuela opened the scoring in the 51st minute as Edgar Greco headed one in off a corner. His strike beat Israel Jimenez who didn’t protect the first post. This gave Corona little chance to save the header.
"Patience, desire and will have paid off," Israel Castro said. "We know that our patience would pull us through. We knew we would score and we did. Chepo gave us a challenge and we answered."
Mexico’s answer came in the 69th minute as Fabian flew down the left flank, before passing the ball back to Carlos Salcido. The veteran defender took aim and fired a rocket into the bottom right corner from outside the box, giving Mexico the 1-1 tie.
"This game showed our resiliency and character," Salcido said. "It was a bit tough since we’ve only been together three days and I haven’t played with some of these players."
The misunderstanding was evident as Venezuela almost capitalized on a mistake from the Mexican defense in the 76th minute, as an unmarked Jose Reyes shot and flirted with the bottom right corner. The tips of Corona’s gloves were enough to preserve the tie.
In the 87th minute Edgar Andrade found Javier Aquino at the top of the box. Aquino slid a perfect pass through to Fabian, who shot on goal but right at Leonardo Morales, the Venezuela goalkeeper. Rafael Marquez Lugo pounced on the rebound to give Mexico the lead.
"We suffered a bit but we won and we deserved it," Lugo said. "I’m here to do my part and I’m glad things went well for the team and myself tonight."
Peralta capitalized on a defensive error two minutes later. Carlos Rivero failed to clear the ball and served Peralta a clear shot on goal, a long distance strike which put the game out of reach at 3-1.
"After they scored we struggled a bit," Peralta said. " We calmed down and stuck to what we did in the first half. By doing that we walk away with the victory."
This is the second straight loss for Venezuela this year, they have lost both games late in the second half.
"This loss hurts," Venezuela head coach Cesar Farias said. "Our team had an average age of 23 years and we had three rookies, so this will be significant for our development. We’re looking for players that can step up right now if we’re missing someone from the first team."
Mexico will next face Colombia February 29th in Miami. That game will close out their preparation for the initial stages of the CONCACAF qualification tournament for the World Cup.
"This should pressure the veterans since everyone wants to play at this level," De la Torre said. "This is what you want as we enter the upcoming tournaments, competition and it should ideally lead to a higher level of play."
Mexico vs. Venezuela highlights: