Mexico’s gold medal dreams came crashing down as Chang-Hoon Kwoon scored a stunner in the 77th minute to send South Korea on their way to the quarterfinals of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Here are my three takeaways from Mexico’s defeat to South Korea:
“Potro” out of ideas
It is only fair Mexico coach Raul “Potro” Gutierrez takes most of the blame for this defeat. For all the talk of the players made available to him and the injuries to Oribe Peralta and Rodolfo Pizarro on the lead-up to this match, he certainly didn’t do himself any favors with the way his team lined up on Wednesday. It almost seemed like Potro stopped trying different things in the warm-up games ahead of this tournament. For the third game in a row, he played the same 4-4-2 formation, only reverting to a 4-2-3-1 once. Mexico looked stale, lacking intensity on numerous occasions of the match.
The way El Tri came out the instant Hirving “Chucky” Lozano jumped on the field said so much about Potro’s decision to leave him on the bench. Potro’s only willingness to try something different was by benching one of Mexico’s most talented players, and by far an large, it was a bad decision in the eyes of many. Potro just kept playing the same way in the apparent hope that the other team wouldn’t figure out a way to stop them. It worked against Germany and in the second half against Fiji, but it didn’t work against South Korea. Now Mexico are going home.
“Guti” struggles are through no fault of his own
You have to be somewhat forgiving of Erick Gutierrez. To those who watch Liga MX on a weekly basis, it should come to no surprise as to why he is one of the brightest young talents in the Mexican game. The really troubling thing for “Guti”, though, is that for the second major tournament running (2015 U-20 World Cup), he fails to offer the kind of intensity and talent he has fans accustomed to in Liga MX. Sure, this was a player that scored four goals in the competition, but it was against Fiji and in a position he almost never plays in.
Guti is a special player, the kind of midfielder that can perform some of the most sophisticated moves at a pace accustomed only in some of the top leagues in Europe. But there is only so much he can do if his manager decides to play him in the wrong places.
There was a particular moment of the match that was quite telling. Michael Perez found himself with space in the South Korean half before passing the ball to Guti. Perez then inexplicably hid between two South Korean players, and Guti had to play the ball back to Cesar Montes because Perez failed to do something simple like present himself to receive the ball back. Perez showed plenty of intensity in this tournament but lacked the technical ability and tactical awareness of a midfielder worthy of bringing balance to the team.
The criticism should go beyond Perez, however. Mexico’s fullbacks rarely looked like passing avenues, which is especially surprising because almost every team in Liga MX drills that concept almost endlessly.
Guti looked flat because Mexico looked flat.
South Korea are worthy group winners
The South Korean goal might have been against the run of play, but you can’t say they didn’t deserve it. Put it this way, South Korean coach Tae-yong Shin did everything Raul “Potro” Gutierrez didn’t do. He made so much more of his players, and as such, they are now group winners.
If anybody watched South Korea in their second game against Germany, this was a completely different team. South Korea looked a vibrant side, repeatedly outmaneuvering the more technical Germans. Against Mexico, Tae-yong Shin offered a more regimented gameplan, reflected in the amount of times his players looked to draw Mexican fouls and put a stop to the flow of the game.
It wasn’t the prettiest of games from the South Koreans, but in contrast to Potro, it showed their manager’s willingness to try something different. That something different has them much closer to a medal, while Mexico watches from home.