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Lopsided win offers comfort for Mexico
Desperation seeped out of the Mexico camp with each passing minute on Wednesday night. The once-limited options increased with each passing sequence and each foray toward the Korea Republic goal. All of the noisy problems surrounding the exile of Carlos Vela, the integration of the European-based players and the prospect of selecting players simply upon their résumés faded away for the moment.
This straightforward 4-0 victory against the tidy, yet ultimately harmless, Koreans in San Antonio offered a much needed measure of comfort and a vital shot of confidence to start 2014.
It also provided the perfect platform for Mexico boss Miguel Herrera to sort through his options before compiling his 23-man squad in May. Herrera used the absences of Giovanni dos Santos, Javier Hernández and Héctor Moreno as an excuse to experiment one last time. His cleverly drawn trial blended key components with outsiders desperate to impress. Those circumstances yielded results beyond any reasonable expectation.
Instead of poking around for players capable of challenging for a place, Herrera can now evaluate candidates genuinely pressing for inclusion.
Tigres striker Alan Pulido drew top billing after marking his debut with a hat trick. Pulido displayed the instincts and the precision required to force his way into picture up front. All three of his goals revealed the ingenuity, the positioning and the ruthlessness necessary to thrive against better foes. His production -- particularly in light of a fairly shallow pool behind Hernández, Raúl Jiménez and top choice Oribe Peralta (on the scoresheet yet again with an emphatic opener) -- warrants further inspection against better competition, though would do well to get off the mark in domestic play sooner rather than later to buttress his claims.
Other players without a regular place in the plans worked their way into the reckoning in less spectacular fashion. Miguel Ponce joined the crowded pool at left wingback by causing problems in the attacking third and providing Peralta with the service for the much needed opener. Isaac Brizuela embarked upon a fine solo run to prompt Pulido's second and Mexico's third and sustain his unexpected push for a place in the three-man midfield. Alfredo Talavera summoned a meaningful stop to keep the score level in the first half and maneuver for position in the uncertain goalkeeping derby.
Each of those displays provide Herrera with the information required to cull his potential choices in the coming months. One match doesn't make a national team career or tip the scales by itself. Sterner examinations lay ahead. But the evidence here suggests some of these players might fit into the side as Herrera attempts to mold his squad in the buildup to Brazil.
At least a portion of those deliberations must involve figuring out a way to strengthen the rickety defensive setup. The South Koreans tormented the exposed central defensive trio at points with constant movement and direct running behind the line. More potent sides could punish Mexico for fielding Rafa Márquez and Maza Rodríguez as two-thirds of the defensive core. Whether Diego Reyes -- a touch rusty in this appearance after spending much of the season in the reserves at FC Porto -- or any other singular choice can fix the problems remains uncertain. Herrera's vocal commitment to captain Márquez ensure no other stone can be left unturned.
Every single player must accept more responsibility for the continued failings on defensive set pieces, though. The plague continued on two separate occasions during the first half with the outcome still in considerable doubt. Only a dreadful miss and a fine Talavera save allowed the Mexicans to escape without punishment. Continued lapses in concentration could prove costly when the margins shrink.
The wide berth provided by this weakened Korean outfit fostered an array of positives to take onward without ignoring the frailties still in place. Herrera can use the performance as a benchmark for his side to build upon and a threat to any arriving players unable or unwilling to fold into the system already in place.
At this early stage in the preparations, the pressure for places within the squad counts as a positive. Mexico still faces a considerable amount of work to form a cohesive unit from its component pieces before it decamps for South America. This victory marks a promising first step in the process and presents a few alternatives Herrera might ultimately require to stave off desperation and uncertainty along the way.
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