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The Costa Rica Conundrum

Jun 3, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Mexico forward Giovani dos Santos (10) chases the ball during the second half against Brazil at Cowboys Stadium. Mexico shut out Brazil 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
Jun 3, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Mexico forward Giovani dos Santos (10) chases the ball during the second half against Brazil at Cowboys Stadium. Mexico shut out Brazil 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Three off days between matches isn’t a great amount of time. It can, however, normally provide just enough recuperation time for the average player. It can provide managers with some time to digest their team’s tactics and fitness. While not having the time to implement drastic tactical alterations, the manager could make basic adjustments. These adjustments progress from ‘wise’ to ‘expected’ when facing the same team on both sides of the break.

Chepo de la Torre surprised many with his Friday lineup in Costa Rica. The unexpected pairing of Oribe Peralta and Chicharito up top failed to produce the offensive firepower that the names might suggest. There were few goal scoring opportunities for a team that dominated possession and were comfortable in defense. Despite Chicharito’s lack of form, the forwards could not be blamed for this. The midfield could draw some ire though. With the two central midfielders, Jesus Zevala and Carlos Salcido, being defensive minded, the majority of the offense was run through the wings with Javier Aquino and Andres Guardado. Guardado had an excellent match, but could hardly be expected to carry the weight of the offense. Aquino, while full of promise, is also not prepared to have that on his shoulders. With little effective offensive movement coming from the middle of the pitch, Costa Rica’s defense was able to sit back and anticipate where the ball would be coming from. Ironically, Mexico’s two goals came from corner kicks with Salcido and Zavala making the most of the chances.

It was a good win considering Mexico was playing on the road against a solid Costa Rican team. It just wasn’t very pretty. Friday's performance did not inspire a great deal of confidence in the lineup or tactical formation. Thus, it was a little more than shocking when Chepo made no alterations to the formation or lineup in the home match on Tuesday night. Not as shocking … the Groundhog Day performance El Tri put on at the Azteca. It was basically the same game that was played out on Friday night. Mexico again created few goal scoring chances despite what was clearly a firm control over the match. Jesus Corona, once again, had little to do for the majority of the night. Costa Rica, once again, executed a successful defensive game plan.

There were only slight differences in the way last night’s match played out. Costa Rica, most likely because of the venue, was even further committed to sitting back and defending at all costs. Keylor Navas, the Costa Rican goalkeeper, took it to the extreme by going down with injuries approximately seventy-five times in the match. Defending and running the clock were clearly the priorities for the visiting team. Despite this approach, Costa Rica was still able to earn more corner kicks then their hosts. The only goal of the match came from the outstanding play of a defender, Jorge Torres Nilo, who delivered a beautiful ball in just past the outstretched arms of Navas to find Chicharito on the back post. Chicharito, incidentally, looked much better in this match than he did on Friday.

More than anything else this pair of matches reveals the gaping hole that Giovani Dos Santos’s absence leaves in the Mexican national team’s lineup. Mexico so blatantly missed an offensive distributor and playmaker in the midfield. It’s a little scary to think that one player can so greatly swing the fate of the national team, but it is clearly the case. Chepo could have plugged in Marco Fabian or even Angel Reyna to fill his role, but chose to change the formation all together. With the streaky performances of those other options, it’s hard to blame him. There’s just not another option as consistent and reliable as Dos Santos has been for El Tri.

Mexico’s two wins over Costa Rica clinch their advancement to the hexagonal phase of World Cup qualifiers. Mission accomplished. Yet, when an inferior opponent concedes so much of the ball Mexico should be able to do much more with it. Performances like these will not garner wins once the competition becomes stiffer. Luckily, by clinching advancement early, Chepo de la Torre and his staff have much more than three days to go back into the lab and find a more sound formula. They definitely have one approach they can now cross off the list.