Mexico had the perfect set-up last night. With Jamaica down to 10 men just before the half for a brutal challenge on Andrés Guardado, they had the entire second half to score a single goal and hold off the Caribbean squad led by HC Paul Hall. Of course, much easier said than done, right? Well, for all the powerful NTs around the world, it isn’t. They take care of business when needed and rarely let an opportunity like that pass. And I guess that’s what Mexico did in the end, right? So, all is good? Not really.
The Mexican NT had just over 75% of ball possession, 19 total shots (only 6 on goal), 8 corner kicks, and triple the passes completed than that of their rivals. Just FYI, Jamaica only had 3 total shots (1 on goal). You’d think Mexico would be winning by a landslide, or at the very least not losing, right? Wrong. With under 10 minutes left in regulation, somehow, someway, Jamaica led 1-0 and were very close to winning their first home match of the WC Qualifier (only their second overall). And how could this be, you say? The same story on a loop; off-target passes in the final third of the pitch, leading to countless wasted opportunities; off-target shots or shots headed straight to the keeper; wretched set-piece defending that results in a rival’s goal.
First of two keys to point to is Funes Mori; after backing Martino’s decision to insert the Argentine in the starting lineup, he got off to a steaming hot start in the Gold Cup. But after those first couple games, he’s struggled mightily, and looked like the Funes Mori we’ve grown used to watching with Rayados. Failed pass attempts, no depth with the ball and missed opportunities. He’s Rayados’ all-time leading scorer; we should expect more from him. And further on this point, his defensive mistake gave Jamaica the lead no less. Explain to me how it’s possible that a jump ball inside the penalty box that’s falling straight to one of your tallest and more talented players getting his head on the ball, he decides to try and box-out his rival, ending with the ball bouncing off his foot and straight to a wide open Daniel Johnson who plowed it into the bottom-right corner. Unacceptable mishap and misjudgment by the striker in such a critical moment.
¡Gooool de Jamaica!— TUDN MEX (@TUDNMEX) January 28, 2022
¡Gooool de Jamaica!
Johnson ya abrió el marcador en Kingston
https://t.co/8AdizyyLW5#CaminoAQatar | #Concacaf | #AlRitmoDeReggae pic.twitter.com/0CmhASZcaq
Mexico continued to attack without much clarity, until the man of the match appeared. This is my second key, and only bright spot for Mexico: Alexis Vega. He’s a BAD MAN right now, and not to be messed with. He had a first touch attempt in the first half that keeper Blake barely got a hand to and deflected, but that would’ve been some score. In Mexico’s first goal, a stupendous cross by Corona found an open Vega who headed it perfectly only to find Blake’s gloves again. But this time, Henry Martin was there to finish it off. And in the second goal just a minute later, he was wide open again, where Charly Rodríguez assisted him with the cross, only to result in a left-footed, one touch shot that was too potent for Blake to control. Heavily involved in both goals and showing off his current form. Hats off to Vega in this one for sure.
Antuna, Gallardo, and Funes Mori all failed to impact positively last night. In fact, all three were taken off at the same time in the 71st minute, and from that point on is when Mexico started to gain depth in their approaches. Credit to Martino for making the right call. In fact, Henry Martin (who would score the equalizer 10 minutes later) and ‘Tecatito’ Corona (who would send in the cross to Vega on the equalizer), both were subbed in at that time. That’s the impact a coach can have on a match. However, when talent isn’t enough, there isn’t much more he can do.
Now, it’s important to point out Mexico was forced to face last night’s match without likely their two most dangerous offensive weapons in Raúl Jiménez (calf) and Hirving Lozano (suspension). With that being said, they squared off with a country who can only muster two top-division players in Ethan Pinnock (Brentford) and Michail Antonio (West Ham). All remaining players are part of inferior divisions. In other words, there were no valid excuses last night. They had to get the win.
In conclusion, the fact Mexico was able to squeeze out the win speaks of two things; first, resilience to some extent by the players; second, and most importantly, they are led by a great head coach (and I mean GREAT). Martino is the correct man in charge and is simply dealing with somewhat of a transition period for the NT. With that being said, it does not bode well for Mexico whenever comes the time to face tougher, grittier squads. And proof of that was the two previous matches, both losses against USA and Canada where Mexico was unable to respond or even put up somewhat of a fight for that matter (neither are even in FIFA’s current top 10 rankings!). The fact they were ten minutes from losing to such a talent-deprived squad yesterday who had only won 1 out of their 8 matches speaks volumes about the NT’s current state. So many things to figure and sort out for ‘Tata’ in so little time.