The Mexican National Team were able to rescue a draw in the final minutes of yesterday’s match with Algeria, thanks to a great through ball by Raúl Jiménez and an even greater strike by Diego Lainez, marking his first career goal with the senior NT. With this result, Mexico went undefeated in their two friendly matches, garnering one victory and one draw. And while it was nice to see Martino’s squad avoid defeat in these two extremely complicated matchups, it remains clear that they still have much to work on and improve if they wish to have a fighting chance to hoist the World Cup trophy in the near future.
Not always can one do this, but thanks to Martino utilizing many of his squad starters for these matches, here are the key takeaways that we learned from this mini European tour:
- Mexico’s defense is the team’s weak link. If it was not obvious before, it certainly should be now. In the Netherlands match, every cross sent in during the final 20 minutes were a perilous journey for Mexico, because of the Dutch winning nearly all of said crosses, whether it be aerial or on the ground. And if Mexico somehow cleared the cross, there was a Dutch player waiting to receive the clearance. Mexico even won the match on a lucky break, had it not been for a stop by Talavera and a volley to the crossbar immediately ensuing in the 89th minute. Netherlands should’ve evened the game at 1. And referring to yesterday’s match with Algeria, Mahrez, Brahimi, and company made defenders look silly, as they dribbled at will, and really tied Mexico in a knot defensively. Not to mention, the defensive letdown during Mahrez’s goal, when neither Araujo or Sepúlveda could decide on who to take the Algerian, and instead left him wide open just outside the six-yard box. Bottom line is they were dominated when pressed, either with a 4-man line (vs. Netherlands), or a 3-man line (vs. Algeria). You can’t look this bad at times on the defensive end and suffer so many letdowns during such long periods of time and expect to ultimately have a deep run in a World Cup.
- Mexico can create danger for opponents in many ways. What looked best on Martino’s squad over these two matches was the offense. Over and over again, “Tecatito,” along with Herrera and especially Jiménez (more on him later), made both rivals look bad defensively at certain times. They handled the ball at will and changed up their style, either through crossing the ball in, looking for the open man with a pass, posting up Jiménez, or with through balls, but Mexico proved they can attack you in a variety of ways, with a veriety of formations, and that’s always good news for a team, because no one defensive system can stop you when this is true, supposedly. Not even Algeria’s stellar defense was able to keep Mexico in check. I really liked the chemistry between these three, as well as Pizarro at times.
- Game management continues to be a worry for Mexico, as it always has. ‘El Tri’ continue to prove they aren’t ready for the big moments. How do we know this? Simple. When they took the 1-0 lead vs. Netherlands, ball possession ensuingly belonged vastly to the Dutch, as well as the closest goal approximations. Mexico were unable to take control of the ball and reach Krul’s goal as they had previously. Corona and his dribbles were wiped away with ease, Herrera stopped handling the ball, and Orbelín Pineda failed to make a difference when subbed in for Pizarro following Jiménez’s goal. Mexico yielded the ball to the Oranje, unlike they had done for the first 60 minutes of the match. And with Algeria, it couldn’t have gotten any clearer. After showing strength and maturity maintaining the 0-0 score, Mexico took the lead on a beauty by Corona and looked poised to take control of the match. Not even two whole minutes had gone by, and back came Bannacer with a wide-open shot just outside the penalty-box to tie things back up at 1. Their dominance continued to the point of Mahrez giving his side a 2-1 lead in the 67th minute. You can’t win a World Cup without having having the poise to handle being in the lead and having some degree of game management.
- Raúl Jiménez has separated himself from the rest. These past two years at Wolverhampton have served as a parting point for him and for the Mexican National Team. As Héctor Moreno continues to garner captaincy honors, Jiménez is certainly more than raising his hand to remind us he’s next. He possibly should be now. He’s elevated his game to a point we’ve rarely seen from other Mexican attackers before. He can do it all. We saw him post-up defenders many times and one-touch the ball to his fellow attackers, we saw him create space for himself and fire a shot just wide of the goal yesterday, we saw him finish plays (unsuccessfully, but he was located where he was supposed to be), we saw him score on a penalty shot, he can use his head effectively, cover the ball with his body, he doesn’t stop moving on the pitch, and most importantly, he rarely loses the ball. He is truly a ‘do-it-all’ attacker. He has made a clear distinction between him and the ‘rest of the pack’ in the National Team, and has confirmed the high level of play we see weekly at Wolverhampton. When the World Cup rolls around, we should see a Mexican squad led by its captain, Raúl Jiménez, in his prime, and firing on all cylinders.