Mexico had one of their worst performances in the Juan Carlos Osorio era as they barely held on to defeat New Zealand 2-1. Osorio totally underestimated New Zealand and made eight changes to the starting lineup that faced Portugal. The moves totally backfired as Mexico had a horrid first half, in which they got scored and were losing 1-0 at halftime. In the second half, Osorio sent Hector Herrera on and Mexico took control of the game, although New Zealand still looked dangerous. Eventually, Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta, after a great play by Javier Aquino, were able to score and Mexico were able to hold on for a somewhat undeserved result. Mexico will face host country Russia next, needing only a draw to get through the semifinals.
After having a great result against European champions Portugal, Osorio decided to go with a different team. While he hasn't admitted it, a lot of the thinking behind that decision was New Zealand was the perfect team to rest players, especially since he didn't do such a big change in any of the official games played so far this summer (Honduras, USA and Portugal). Only Diego Reyes, Carlos Salcedo and Raul Jimenez started this game and the game against Portugal. The gamble turned out to be disastrous for Mexico, who looked terrible and totally lacking in cohesion. New Zealand took advantage of a midfield of Marco Fabian, Reyes and Giovani Dos Santos that lacked understanding and was totally underwhelming offensively, as well as leaving Reyes out to dry.
While Osorio planned to counter New Zealand's aerial ability, that plan failed and Mexico consistently lost balls in the air, as well as much of the physical clashes. In one of those battles, Carlos Salcedo got injured and had to leave the game after a play where New Zealand didn't throw the ball out for fair play, and thus, Chris Wood had a 1 v. 1 with goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera. The play caused a big discussion between Osorio and New Zealand's bench, in which TV cameras clearly saw Osorio curse at them. A couple of minutes later, a big mistake by Nestor Araujo, who gave the ball away, allowed Wood to be left alone and to score the 1-0. New Zealand went into halftime with a deserved win.
The second half had Herrera substituted on and the game finally went into the expected performance of Mexico dominating the play. Still, while Mexico was finally moving the ball well, New Zealand had a clear chance when Woods was found wide open in a counter attack, only for Talavera to save his chance. Mexico continued to finally be dangerous as Herrera allowed for the ball movement from the midfield that was missing. The key of the game was Javier Aquino waking up and being the best offensive weapon. Aquino and Marco Fabian combined for a pass to Raul Jimenez, who tied the game with a strong shot. Mexico continued to have the ball, although New Zealand always looked dangerous in the counter. Still, Aquino had a great play as he dribbled past the New Zealand defense to cross to Oribe Peralta who scored his sixth career goal against New Zealand.
Moments later, New Zealand moved their players up to great success, although Jurgen Damm had a great play from a counter that he wasted by being selfish. New Zealand had most of the ball and hit the post, as Mexico once again failed a to score of a good counter attack and Jimenez also got a ball cleared off the line.
In the last minutes, a brawl between player ended up with Reyes and Herrera getting yellow cards but Mexico held on for the win.
The performance was not just a severe hit to Mexico's play, but especially to Juan Carlos Osorio. His gamble to continue making changes in short tournaments backfired spectacularly today and the positive momentum from the Portugal game is gone. The game showed that Osorio's dream of having a team that is as strong with his bench and his staring lineup is just a dream and the team will drop considerably if they make so many moves, as was clear today. New Zealand took advantage and exploited Mexico's lack of cohesion. It remains to be seen if his strategy will pay off against Russia, although the results earlier today means that Mexico will go through with a draw while Russia needs to win the game.
The worse news might be the injuries as Salcedo went straight into the hospital and his sub, Hector Moreno, also got subbed out because of injury. Mexico will go back to Kazan to meet the hosts where they must hope that the rest will benefit them.