FOX Soccer Exclusive
Mexico shows signs of life vs. Finland
Mexico trusted Miguel Herrera to transfer his success with Club América to the international stage. He brought his carefully cultivated style of play and 10 of his own players into the squad to shake this underachieving group of players to its core.
The results of those revolutionary efforts started to emerge in the 4-2 victory over Finland on Wednesday night. Mexico is by no means the finished product at this stage as evidenced by its defensive wobbles and its willingness to allow a poor Finnish side to hang around for two-thirds of the game, but it is a far more alluring outfit now than it proved just a few weeks ago.
At this stage, those glimpses -- coherent and intricate combination play through the middle, helpful support from the wingbacks and a lingering determination to play quickly to create opportunities -- provide hope ahead of the task ahead in the World Cup playoff against New Zealand next month. It is now about building upon those promising developments, fixing the persistent issues at the back, integrating additional players into the squad and working toward greater consistency ahead of the do-or-die examination against the All Whites.
Herrera's impact appeared from the outset with his aggressive team selection, his reliance on his América charges (seven named in the starting XI) and his strident instructions to play at a high tempo against a side ill equipped to cope with it. El Tri exchanged contemplative possession for more direct, urgent fare. Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún pushed high up the flanks to provide the width, while Luis Montes and Carlos Peña tried to combine quickly with Raul Jimenez and Oribe Peralta to create openings through the middle.
By increasing the tempo and probing more earnestly while in possession, Mexico displayed the sharpness required to pose problems for the reluctant Finns in the early stages. The early onslaught provided the sort of dividends required to validate the efforts. Rafa Márquez opened the scoring from a straightforward set piece inside the opening quarter of an hour. Montes served an inviting ball into the box for the veteran defender to ghost past his marker and give Mexico a deserved lead in the early stages.
More incisive and streamlined play prompted the second from Peña after 24 minutes. The industrious Club Leon man started the sequence with a deft pass to Montes. The first pass prompted a neat exchange between Montes and Peralta to ultimately inspire Peralta's cushioned ball through the line and Peña's rasping low finish.
Finland produced a response decidedly against the run of play four minutes later as the familiar fissures in the Mexican rearguard popped up once more. El Tri failed to cope with a free kick from the left or squash the danger once it landed. The ball eventually fell nicely for Jarkko Hurme to smash home into the roof of the net to pull a goal back.
The riposte and the subsequent uncertainty from the Mexican defense urged the Finns forward in the latter stages of the first half. Finland pressed higher and searched for the equalizer, but the halftime interval allowed Mexico to regroup and subsequently take control of the game.
Peralta once again supplied the necessary breathing room with a timely contribution in front of goal two minutes after play resumed. Peña completed another sweeping move with a clever layoff on the edge of the penalty area. Peralta's ensuing drive deflected off the back of a Finnish defender en route to goal and left Henri Sillanpää stranded in his efforts to prevent the third.
Mexico once again threw Finland a lifeline with suspect work at the back after 56 minutes. Márquez lost the ball on the sideline and allowed Tim Väyrynen to win possession on the right flank. Väyrynen reached the byline and swung his low cross back toward the near post. Juan Carlos Valenzuela then bundled home into his own net to reduce the advantage yet again.
The final blow to the Finns' chances finally arrived eight minutes later after more diligent toil from Peralta. The bullish forward held off his marker long enough to drag into position to play second-half substitute Alonso Escoboza behind the rearguard. Escoboza made no mistake to notch his first goal for El Tri and relieve any lingering stress heading into the final 20 minutes or so.
Widespread substitutions sapped much of the ambition and the intent from the game in the final quarter of an hour, but Herrera gathered much of the information he will need to take forward into the first leg at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 13. His system created more impetus through midfield and more menace in the final third against a weak opponent, but it did not solve the lingering defensive concerns despite the addition of a third center back.
Herrera must now weigh how he needs to tinker with his side over the next fortnight to prepare for a more rigorous examination. The selection of foreign-based players -- Javier Hernández and Héctor Moreno must feature on the shortlist of potential inclusions -- looms large, but most of the pieces are in place for the decisive tie with the All Whites. It is now down to Herrera and his players to improve upon the foundation laid in this friendly and make the strides required to secure a berth in Brazil next month.