Mexico match a tale of two halves

Fifty-five minutes.

That’s how long it took.

In front of 80,108 raucous aficionados at Cowboys Stadium, Mexico crushed El Salvador 5-0 and closed out the opening 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader in a festive manner.

After struggling to crack El Salvador’s defensive scheme for majority of the game, Mexico showed their superiority by busting the flood gates open in the second half in large part due to precise passing, clinical finishing, and a slice of luck.

Mexican right back, Efraín Juárez, broke the stalemate at the 55th minute by unintentionally heading the ball through the net after a blocked shot attempt. Fortunately for Mexico, Juárez’s fortunate score changed the complexion of the game and signaled the onslaught by the talented Mexican side: most notably, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez’s hat-trick performance.

The Good

Mexico overcame its traditional problems of opening up rival defenses and capitalized on the opportunities at goal against their Central American foe. Giovani Dos Santos, Andrés Guardado, and ‘Chicharito’ were able to get behind the Salvadoran defense in the second half and punished lackadaisical defending when needed.

While Dos Santos was a constant nightmare for the Salvadoran defenders on the from start to finish, Guardado was an integral part in Mexico’s offensive game plan and participated in three of Mexico’s five goals. ‘Chicharito,’ undoubtedly the man of the match, showed his versatility and brilliance at forward by netting three outstanding goals; the first coming via a header in the 60th minute, a splendid right-footed shot in the 67th minute, and a cold-blooded penalty chip shot at the 90th minute to complete his first hat-trick with El Tri.

The Bad

El Salvador played a solid 45 minutes, but eventually unraveled once Mexico pressured and secured ball possession past the center half. Even after Mexico’s scoring blitz, El Salvador’s manager, Rubén Israel, decided not to advance his formation lines to help attackers Eliseo Quintanilla and Rodolfo Zelaya up front. As a result, El Salvador was unable to keep up with Mexico’s offensive pace and incapable of adding to their first half showing.

The Truth

Without question, the game was a tale of two halves.

Mexico and El Salvador played an even and competitive first half to say the least. Once El Tri opened the scoring sheet, El Salvador’s defensive intensity gave way to Mexico’s offensive prowess. Mexican coach, José Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre, further imposed Mexico’s grip on the game by changing formations and opting with a two forward system when Aldo de Nigris entered the game for Israel Castro in the 55th minute; as the substitution ensured Mexico’s willingness to dominate and score goals at all costs.

Looking ahead, Mexico will certainly face opponents that offer different challenges than the one presented by El Salvador on Sunday night. Costa Rica and Cuba, Mexico’s remaining opponents in Group A, also opened group play on Sunday resulting in a resounding 5-0 victory by Costa Rica.

Unlike Mexico, the Ticos played a complete 90-minute match against an outgunned and outmatched Cuban team. Costa Rican strikers Marcos Ureña and Alvaro Saborio helped lift the three-time World Cup participants past the Cubans and placed them top of the group with Mexico.

Mexico’s next game will be against Cuba on June 9. Supporters will expect and demand Mexico to win convincingly against Cuba. If Mexico is to repeat as the CONCACAF Gold Cup champions, El Tri will need to play a full 90-minutes to show contenders like Costa Rica, Honduras, and the United States that they are a force to be reckoned with.

Charles Ventura is a freelancer writer contributing Mexican national team coverage to FOX Soccer. He also serves as an editor at Rojomania.com.